Articles - The Woof Meow Show

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The “Woof-Meow” show is on every Sunday at 8:30PM on WVOM, 103.9FM, the Voice of Maine. Hosted by Don Hanson of Green Acres Kennel Shop, the show focuses on educating dog and cat guardians about their dogs and cats.

AIR DATE: Sunday, January 8th, 2006

GUEST: Dr. Mark Hanks, Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic

Canine Flu

What Is The Canine Flu?

The canine flu virus (H3N8), a recent hot topic in the media, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that occurs in dogs. Viruses are small pathogens that cause disease and the influenza virus in particular has subtypes, many of which are species specific. The canine influenza virus is believed to have mutated from the equine influenza virus. Reports of the H3N8 virus initiated with racing greyhounds in Florida in January of 2004. Because this virus is relatively new, dogs have developed little natural immunity to it, and almost all dogs exposed will contract the disease with 80% showing clinical symptoms. The influenza virus in dogs has approximately a 5% mortality rate, typically due to complications from pneumonia. While flu viruses do mutate, at this point in time there is no indication that this particular virus can cross from canines to humans or other species.

How Is The Virus Spread?

The H3N8 virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs, as well as via contact with inanimate objects, and spreads most easily where dogs are in close proximity to one another. It is believed that the incubation period for the flu virus is 2 to 5 days after exposure before clinical symptoms are noticed, and infected dogs may shed the virus for 7 to 10 days from the initial day of clinical signs. (Dog owners whose dogs are showing signs of respiratory disease should not bring their pets to facilities where other dogs may be exposed.) Approximately 20% of dogs are silent shedders in that they have been exposed, but do not demonstrate any clinical symptoms of the illness.

Is The Canine Flu Virus Here in Maine?

At this point in time, no cases of the canine flu have been reported in Maine, and Massachusetts is the closest state that has reported incidences of this illness.  Moreover, most of the reports have come from racing groups not companion dogs. It is anticipated that at some point in time isolated cases in Maine will be observed. A canine public health campaign has been initiated and veterinarians have been advised of what to be on the lookout for. Additionally, animals have what is known as ambient immunity to classes of viruses. This means that some will be exposed to the virus but not show any signs or symptoms and they will develop an immunity in that particular group over a period of five to ten years.

What Are The Symptoms?

There are two forms of the canine flu, a mild form which is often mistaken for “kennel cough,” a common canine illness that is caused by bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, and a more severe form which may be accompanied by pneumonia. While the symptoms of canine influenza virus are very similar to that of “kennel cough” there are some notable differences. The cough that is typically associated with “kennel cough” is more of a croup cough and often sounds like a goose honk, whereas the cough that is observed with canine influenza is a deep, wet cough, and often is accompanied by hemoptysis (spitting up of bloody material from lungs). Coughing may last for up to three weeks. Additionally, with the kennel cough virus, dogs typically experience a very mild fever of about 103.2, whereas with the canine flu virus, dogs often experience a fever as high as 104 – 107 degrees and as a result are very lethargic. A thick nasal discharge may be seen in either the mild or the more severe form of the canine flu. Older dogs and young puppies are at the greatest risk for developing complications.

How Do You Test For The Canine Flu?

At this time the only facility that is testing for the canine influenza virus is Cornell University in New York State. They examine a blood sample to determine if there are any antibodies present to the H3N8 virus. The difficulty with this test is that it takes a while to obtain positive results as the body needs time to produce antibodies.  Additionally, both an acute sample and a convalescent sample are necessary for a true diagnosis and thus it may take several weeks to obtain accurate results. The cost is approximately $90.00 - $100.00 per test. A major limitation of the test is that many decisions have to be made prior to receiving the test results however a true diagnosis cannot be given without the test being performed.

How Do You Treat The Flu?

Currently no vaccine for the canine influenza virus is being produced. There is a possibility that they may eventually utilize some form of the equine vaccine to develop a vaccination for the H3N8 virus, but there is not sufficient information and research to warrant this at this time. Treatment for canine flu is typically symptomatic. Some flu medications for people are being tested, but the jury is still out on their effectiveness.  The goal is to support the dog’s immune system so that the dog can fight off the virus on its own and to monitor and treat secondary infections. The virus often reproduces in the respiratory cells of the dog and in this process destroys these cells resulting in secondary infections. It is the secondary infections that are typically the cause of death in a small percentage of dogs. Giving the dog intravenous fluid to maintain proper fluid balance and prevent dehydration, using coupage to break up respiratory secretions, and prescribing antibiotics to treat secondary respiratory infections are some courses of action a veterinarian may take. Proper nutrition and good animal care practices will help to bolster the animal’s immune system and aid in their ability to recover from exposure to the virus.

Are There Any Precautions That I Should Take?

Since there are no reported cases here in Maine there is currently little concern about boarding dogs or taking your dogs to play with others. As a matter of fact, there is no more risk today than there was three years ago to go to public places with your pet. The only difference would be that if your pet were to show any of the symptoms, they should be seen by a veterinarian as a precaution.

Other Sources:

Whole Dog Journal, Fending Off The Flu, Volume 8, Number 12, December 2005.

Notes from The Woof Meow Show, 8JAN06
Guest - Dr. Mark Hanks, Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic, Orrington, ME
© Donald J. Hanson, BFRP, CDBC, CPDT



Last Updated March 7, 2006
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