While flu season appears to be winding down for humans, it may be heating up for man’s best friend.
Area veterinarians are warning dog owners about an outbreak of canine influenza and urging them to vaccinate high-risk dogs. The recommendation comes after cases of canine influenza were confirmed in Grants Pass, Ore., and, just last week, Walla Walla.
The outbreak of the H3N2 strain of canine influenza began in San Francisco in December. Veterinarians have confirmed more than 400 cases in the outbreak — the bulk of which are in the Bay Area — with many more suspected.
The recent cases in the Pacific Northwest aren’t reason to panic, said veterinarian Sandy Willis, a small animal internist at Phoenix Lab in Mukilteo, Wash. and past-president of the Washington State Veterinary Medicine Association. But dog owners should take notice because the viral respiratory disease is quite contagious, she said.
“Mortality isn’t high, but morbidity is,” Willis said. “A lot of animals can potentially get infected.”
The virus is spread between dogs much like influenza viruses are spread between humans: through droplets expelled during coughing and sneezing — and, for dogs, barking. The virus can also remain viable on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours and on hands for 12 hours, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“Virtually all dogs exposed to canine influenza virus become infected,” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association website. Humans cannot be infected with canine influenza, and infection in cats is rare. But the ability for the virus to spread quickly among dogs prompted DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in Portland and some local veterinarians to recommend immunization for at-risk dogs.
“It’s sort of a lifestyle situation,” said Dr. Vanessa Hawkins, veterinarian at East Padden Animal Hospital in Vancouver. “Not every single dog needs to go out and get the vaccine.”
Dogs that come into contact with other dogs are at higher risk for contracting the virus. That includes canines that regularly visit dog parks, doggie day cares, grooming and boarding facilities and dog shows. Dogs that recently traveled to or from the outbreak area in California are also at higher risk, as well as rescue animals, senior dogs and dogs with heart disease or lung disease.
East Padden Animal Hospital sent a notice to its patients last month, advising owners to consider the vaccine if their dog fits the high-risk criteria. While there aren’t any local cases yet, Hawkins said she won’t be surprised to see the virus reach Southwest Washington.
Many local animal rescue groups partner with organizations in California and bring dogs to the metro area, Hawkins said. A dog may appear healthy but actually be infected with the flu and not yet showing symptoms. An asymptomatic dog could introduce the virus to the local community, where it could quickly spread, she said.
The most common sign of illness is a cough that lasts 10 to 21 days. Other symptoms include sneezing, thick nasal discharge, lethargy, anorexia and fever. Dogs infected with the H3N2 strain may start showing respiratory signs two to eight days after infection, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
There are no medications to treat canine flu, but veterinarians may recommend supportive care to keep the dog hydrated, manage the cough and treat secondary bacterial infections. Most dogs recover within two to three weeks.
The canine influenza vaccine can protect dogs for one year. Not all veterinary clinics carry the vaccine, so dog owners should check with their clinic to ensure it’s available.
East Padden Animal Hospital has a bivalent vaccine, which protects against the two strains of canine influenza (H3N2 and H3N8). The vaccine comes in two doses: the initial shot and a booster three weeks later. Each shot is $45 at the east Vancouver animal hospital; dogs not established as patients will also need an exam, which costs $55.