Canine influenza – Is it here?

Published 8:40 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

While the human population, state and national health departments are dealing with the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as swine flu, which is affecting the health and welfare of people world-wide, veterinarians are warning dog owners in the United States of a similar canine version.

Although the H3N8, or canine influenza, does not spread to humans, it is having a serious impact on dogs and those involved in the care and tending of dogs.

According to information supplied by Intervet Schering-Plough, H3N8 was first known to exist in horses more than 40 years. When cases of an unknown respiratory illness began showing up in dogs in Florida in 2004 scientists believed the virus had jumped from horses to dogs. In September 2005, the virus was identified by Dr. Cynda Crawford, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Edward J. Dubovi, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine as “a newly emerging pathogen in the dog population in the United States. The virus has now been confirmed in 30 states.”

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Local veterinarian David Bryan, of Bryan and Hight Veterinary Clinic, said it has apparently jumped over this area in its movement to other states, as we have not had any cases confirmed by blood work. However, we have experienced large outbreaks of similar type illnesses in this area.

Confirmation of canine influenza is not that easy. Symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases, such as kennel cough. They include coughing, sneezing, fever, nasal discharge and discharge of the eyes. Nasal swab tests can be taken if the dog is seen within a day or two of the onset of symptoms. After that the presence of H3N8 can only be confirmed by blood tests. The first collection is taken while the animal is sick and a second sample taken two to three weeks later.

Canine influenza is considered by veterinarians to be a serious threat to dogs. It is easily spread through coughing and sneezing in the air and by direct contact with contaminated surfaces, such as dog bowls, and even clothing of those caring for infected dogs.

Of those dogs exposed to the illness, nearly all will be susceptible to infection. About 80 percent will have a mild form. About 20 percent of infected dogs will show no clinical signs, and 10 to 20 percent may progress to more severe forms of disease, such as pneumonia. The number of dogs infected that die is between 5 and 8 percent.

Veterinarians stress that there is no evidence that humans can be infected by canine influenza. The CDC and its partners continue to monitor the H3N8 influenza virus along with instances of possible human exposure to all viruses closely, and none has been found to exist.

The good news is that there is a safe vaccine available for your pooch. No side effects have been reported from the vaccine in field safety trials. Local veterinary clinics have the vaccine and they encourage their patients to take advantage of the vaccination of their dogs, as part of their illness prevention regimen. The vaccine is given in two doses, two to four weeks apart, with a one dose annual revaccination recommended.