Canine influenza virus (CIV), which made its first devastating impact on Chicago in 2015, is again sweeping through the area. Communally active dogs, such as those who frequent dog parks or live in close proximity to each other in urban areas, are at an especially high risk for exposure. This spells trouble even for young, healthy pups, because canine flu is a relatively new virus for our dogs and they have not developed a natural immunity to it. If your dog is exposed, a nasty case of the flu is almost sure to follow.
For shelters and recue organizations, the rapid spread of the virus has had dire consequences. The Anti-Cruelty Society, for example, was forced to halt all dog adoptions in early February for several weeks. Adoption freezes are devastating to rescue efforts—no dogs out means no dogs in. Local volunteer initiatives like the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention and Support Program (CRISP) are doing what they can to reduce chances of flu exposure by diverting guardian-surrendered dogs straight to foster homes instead of having them enter Chicago Animal Control.
We talked to Natalie Marks, DVM, of Blum Animal Hospital, to learn what dog parents should be doing. First, she stresses, we need to keep in mind that the canine flu is not going away any time soon. The good news though is that you can help minimize its impact.
Educate yourself on the virus. CIV is an airborne virus, so your dog can be exposed even without direct contact with another dog (think elevators, grassy areas, and even shared air ducts). Symptoms include coughing, runny nose, fever, lethargy, and decreased appetite. A small percentage of dogs develop severe symptoms like pneumonia and coughing up blood.
Don’t let appearances fool you, dogs can be contagious before they show signs of the illness, and they can shed the virus up to 24 days after they have recovered from symptoms. The virus does not spread between humans and dogs. Of the two currently active strains, H3N2 can infect both dogs and cats; H3N8 only infects dogs.
The flu virus does die on its own, but can live 24 hours on surfaces and 48 hours on clothing. Sharing water bowls, toys, and bedding can allow the virus to jump from dog to dog. If you spend time with dogs as a volunteer or pet professional always wash your hands between dogs if you are handling more than one at a time. Once you leave the shelter, change clothes before playing with your own dog. Using a bleach alternative when doing laundry will help kill off any bugs you might carry home.
Have a new dog or fostering? It is always good practice to isolate new dogs from your existing pets for three to five days. For CIV, this allows the flu symptoms—if the virus is present—time to show up.
There is a vaccine, just be sure to get the booster. There is no screening test to determine if your dog is carrying the flu virus, but there is a combined vaccine for the H3N2 and H3N8 strains. It is effective both at immunizing your own pet against the flu and decreasing the shedding of the virus by your dog into the environment. It is given in a series, with a booster shot given two to four weeks after the initial shot. The effectiveness of the vaccine greatly increases when the booster is given, so don’t skip it. Unfortunately, there is no current vaccine for felines.
If you have a healthy, communally active dog, be sure to discuss the vaccine with your vet as soon as you can—don’t wait for an annual check up. The flu can hit dogs hard and has even resulted in some deaths, so it’s best to be safe and talk with your vet about preventative options and best practices. With proper prevention, care, and common sense, you have much better odds at keeping your dog safe from the canine flu.