Protecting your pets: Vaccines help prevent dog flu illness

Captain Alyssa Hetrick Balzer, Fort Campbell Veterinary Branch intern, holds Bastogne, the 1st Brigade Combat Team mascot, recently at the Fort Campbell Veterinary Center, 5289 Eighth St. Canine influenza virus is highly contagious and like the human flu, is spread by respiratory droplets. To make a vaccination appointment for your dog, call the center at 270-798-3614.

With the human flu season coming into full swing, our dogs also are getting hit hard with the canine influenza virus.

The most recent outbreak of canine flu was in Ohio, with an estimated 1,000 dogs affected. It seems like the cases are slowing down in Ohio, but businesses are still feeling the after-effects, with many local dog day cares, boarding facilities, and dog parks still closed. Additionally, in June canine flu was reported at Fort Knox and Louisville, Kentucky.

Canine influenza virus is highly contagious and like the human flu, is spread by respiratory droplets. Although it is not contagious to people, it can be transferred dog-to-dog via direct contact, nasal secretions (by barking, coughing or sneezing), contaminated objects including kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, and leashes, and by people handling infected dogs without appropriate good hygiene like hand washing and washing clothing with laundry detergent. The virus can live on surfaces up to 48 hours, clothing for 24 hours, and hands for 12 hours.

There are two strains of canine influenza virus – subtype H3N8 first emerged in 2004 in racing greyhounds in Florida, while subtype H3N2 emerged in late February 2015 with an outbreak of respiratory disease in dogs in Chicago, Illinois, and nearby areas. The H3N2 strain also has infected cats in a shelter in Indiana in 2016. The most recent outbreaks are caused by the H3N2 strain, however the H3N8 strain has been identified in most states in the U.S.

Dogs may present with persistent coughing, sneezing, fever and decreased appetite. It can mimic kennel cough, and thus diagnosis on clinical signs alone is not enough. A deep pharyngeal swab sent to a diagnostic lab is necessary to diagnose canine influenza. Even with a diagnosis, treatment is usually supportive with cough suppressants, antibiotics (if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected) and fluids to prevent dehydration. Although mortality rate is low, the virus can sometimes cause pneumonia, which can require dogs to be hospitalized. Chest radiographs are needed for a diagnosis of pneumonia. Monitor your dog for shortness of breath, and increased respiratory rate and effort that may indicate secondary pneumonia.

Just as in people, it is recommended that dogs stay home when infected. It is best to keep infected dogs separated from pets outside the household for four weeks. Most dogs recover in two-three weeks with the mild form.

Prevention is key, and the good news is that there are vaccines. Although vaccines are not 100 percent effective, they can significantly reduce the severity of clinical disease, virus shedding, and secondary infection by bacterial pathogens involved in the canine respiratory tract. As a result, vaccination is recommended for dogs that are frequently boarded, go to dog day care, dog parks, grooming salons or for those housed in shelters or kennels.

It is important to take into consideration the vaccination protocol for maximum immunity or protection against CIV. Dogs must be vaccinated at least three weeks before exposure to CIV; the vaccine should be given in two doses no less than two weeks apart. Immunity is expected seven days after the second dose.

The staff at the Fort Campbell Veterinary Center, 5289 Eighth St., is happy to facilitate protecting your pet from canine influenza. The clinic is stocked with the bivalent vaccine version, which covers both influenza strains. Currently, there is no vaccine for cats. To make an appointment, call 270-798-3614.

The American Veterinary Medical Association website, https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/FAQs/Pages/Control-of-Canine-Influenza-in-Dogs.aspx,  is an excellent resource for more information about the canine influenza virus, prevention and treatment.