By Katrina Hugenot, RN
It’s flu season. As the daylight lessens and the nights extend, we notice more people carrying tissues and an increase in the number of television advertisements for cold/flu remedies. We’re cautioned by our healthcare providers to keep these viral invaders at bay (hand washing, etc.), to ‘get your flu shot’, and people go on about their business, thinking little more about it.
But, this flu season, amongst the children, elderly, and immunocompromised, there’s another group to worry about: dogs. That’s right, the much publicized ‘dog flu’ or canine influenza virus for those liking to speak more syllables (woof woof), has arrived. Reports of it abound in the last few weeks.
It seems it is another variation on the avian flu which has been so highly publicized. Apparently, it managed to jump to horses and then mysteriously showed up in Greyhound racing dogs a few years ago. Now we find it in household pets. Due to the novelty of the strain, our animals normally well-codified immune systems have not built up any antigens against the virus, thus rendering them highly susceptible. According to Cornell University virologists working with researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 80% of animals that come in contact with the virus have gotten ill. Over 95% suffer for a period, but then thankfully make a full recovery.
The symptoms of dog flu mimic kennel cough: low-grade fever, cough, and nasal discharge. The virus will usually run its course in about 4 weeks, with some improvement showing after 2 weeks, then trending downward for the next 2 weeks as the immune system is further weakened.
While there is research underway to find a ‘flu vaccine’, like with humans, it’s been difficult to determine the exact viral strain to use in the vaccine. The Bordetella immunization commonly used against kennel cough is ineffective against the dog flu.
As we publish, there are no dog flu vaccines available. So, preventatively, notify your veterinarian if you notice respiratory symptoms in your dog, keep your dog away from dogs who are obviously ill, and make sure your dog wears his hat and mittens when going outside.
Katrina Hugenot is a Registered Nurse and dog lover with a very warm spot for Airedales and the late great Ansel. She publishes essays and articles about a wide range of topics on her EcoNurse.com website.