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Canine Flu: How concerned should I be?

Brooklyn Bark: Let's start at the end. Should I Panic?

Dr. Chris: Not at all if your dog is in Brooklyn. The most important thing about the Canine Influenza outbreak is that presently there have been no known cases outside the Midwest.The outbreak started in Chicago and has since been found in four Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio).

BBark: What Is It and How Does It Spread?

Dr. Chris: Flu viruses are named after certain proteins that are found in the virus. This current strain of canine influenza (H3N2) is different from the canine influenza strain of past outbreaks (H3N8), which your dog may have been vaccinated for in the past. The canine flu spreads in similar ways to human flu. The virus is shed in the respiratory secretions of infected dogs (coughing, sneezing) for as long as 7 days. Dogs that are infected usually begin to show signs of illness within 2 to 3 days, although it can be up to 8 days before symptoms appear. Most infected dogs have a mild form of the disease that resolves with supportive veterinary care. However more serious cases can occur, sometimes resulting in pneumonia and even death. It spreads most easily in close quarters so dogs in kennels, shelters, and boarding facilities are at increased risk. The virus can also be spread to cats, and likely guinea pigs and ferrets, but there is no evidence that it can spread to humans.

BBark: What Should I do For Prevention?

Dr. Chris: It is not known whether the current canine influenza virus vaccine provides any cross-protectionagainst the new strain that is circulating in the Midwest. Unless the flu spreads to the Northeast, your dog can continue with their normal routine. If you are traveling with your dog to the affected areas should consult your veterinarian.

As with human flu, regular handwashing is the number one protectant.

People bringing their dog from the Chicago area to New York should monitor their pups for any signs of illness, keep them away from dog parks for a full week, and be told in no uncertain terms that our pizza is better than theirs.

BBark: I didn't catch how serious dog flu is. Is it generally self limiting in a healthy animal?

Dr. Chris: It's usually mild but potentially serious. Similar to how we think about human flu. For many individuals it's not a big deal, but it still kills many people every year. There's a mild form and a severe form. The severe form often leads to pneumonia. Almost all dogs that are exposed to the virus become infected because there is no natural immunity. 80% will show clinical signs, the other 20% will carry the virus but not become ill. I haven't seen any numbers on how many develop the severe form, but the overall mortality rate is considered low (less than 10%).

BBark: What symptoms should an owner look for?

Dr. Chris: The symptoms are coughing (wet or dry), nasal and ocular discharge, sneezing, lethargy, inappetance and a low grade fever.

BBark: How long before contacting a vet?

Dr. Chris: Any dog with a cough that persists for more than a day should have their human contact their vet.

BBark: When should an owner contact a vet immediately (puppy? compromised dog? fever above x? not eating for y days? etc?

Dr. Chris: It's very hard to quantify this. Generally if owners are concerned they should contact their vet,better safe than sorry. Owners know their dog best so if the dog is eating and has a normal energy level then it is ok to wait a day and see if things resolve. Lethargy and inappetance or anorexia are more concerning to me.

Most owners aren't comfortable taking a rectal temperature on their dog but for those that are, the normal range in a dog is 99.5-102.5 and anything over that is concerning. The smaller the dog the greater the concern, so owners with small puppies should contact their vet immediately if they are ill.

BBark: How long does the flu last if it self resolves?

Dr. Chris: It lasts for 10 to 21 days. There are no antivirals approved for use in dogs so it is largely supportive care. Antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infection. NSAID's to reduce fever, fluids to correct dehydration. Bloodwork and chest radiographs if indicated.

BBark: Is there any medicinal value to chicken soup?

Dr. Chris: Only for the owners.

Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the medical director at North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY11217. A graduate of Cornell Veterinary School, Dr. Chris practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before settling with his wife, Lauren, and dog, Turbo in Brooklyn. He welcomes any and all interactions about pets. You can ask him a question at or see him at his practice M-F: 9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. In emergency, Dr. Chris still does house calls.

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