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Who knew dogs flu? - (1/30/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro
Bill came into the pharmacy for his flu shot. He said to the pharmacist, “What’s this about the dog flu? Can I bring my dog, Sally, in for a flu shot too?” The pharmacist explained that canine influenza is not the same viral infection that sickens humans. But there is a vaccine for dog flu that could prevent the pet from contracting this potentially deadly disease.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF), dog flu is a relatively recent arrival in North America, having migrated from Asia. No influenza viruses were known to circulate in dogs until 2004 when a virus caused outbreaks of severe and often fatal respiratory disease among racing greyhounds in the US. This airborne virus was acquired from horses and probably entered greyhound populations several years before these outbreaks. Although it has spread to other breeds of dogs since that time, the illness in these animals has been more typical of human flu. The most common symptom is a mild upper respiratory disease with a persistent cough. Pneumonia is possible, generally as the result of a secondary bacterial infection, but it is uncommon. Highly contagious infections tend to be seen mainly in animal shelters, kennels, dog daycare facilities, or other sites where groups of susceptible dogs are in close contact. In addition to dog-to-dog encounters, the virus is spread via shared items like toys or human contact, such as kennel workers who have carried the virus home with them. 

While a dog with the flu may not have the same demands as a spouse or a child with the flu – “More orange juice, Mom!,” “Honey, the remote fell under the bed!,” “We’re out of Pepto Bismol!” – the symptoms are basically the same. They include a persistent cough, nasal discharge – not just your dog’s normal wet nose – fever as high as 106°F, eye discharge – look for goopy, mucus-like ooze – sneezing, poor appetite, reduced activity, and lethargy. Like the human flu, canine influenza can take anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks to fully resolve. The AVMF says the mortality rate is approximately 10%. There is no evidence to suggest that either strain of canine influenza (H3N8 or H3N2) can infect humans. However, quarantine your dog from other animals, including cats, for at least 4 weeks, until s/he fully recovers. And Lysol everything, including air vents.

No treatment exists that is specifically for dog flu. Thus, the focus of treatment is to provide supportive care while the infection runs its course. Dogs with mild infection may not require any intervention. A very high fever may necessitate treatment. Consult with your vet before giving any human medication to your dog. Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) can be very toxic to both dogs and cats. Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding and ulcers. Use of antitussives (cough medicine) is not supported by clinical evidence, and in fact, is contraindicated in dogs with a productive cough.

In a June 2017 advisory, the AVMF suggested that a 2-shot vaccine given 3 weeks apart may be a prevention option for dogs that are at least 8 weeks old. It is recommended for all dogs with exposure to other dogs such as those in boarding facilities, dog shows, grooming stations, and shelters.

Bill got his flu shot that day. Then, he made an appointment for Sally to get her first flu vaccination at the vet’s office that week.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com     


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