Sunday, April 19, 2015

My thoughts on the Canine Influenza Outbreak

One of my acceptable risks.
Wendy gives a kiss and cures my bad day.
The flu outbreak in the Chicago area has many people asking for guidance so I thought I would try to provide some help with what we know now about the new canine flu virus called H3N2 strain.

As the owner of a large, busy veterinary practice I try very hard to help inform my clients, prepare them for any of life's challenges and most importantly I try to protect the most important pets in my life, my patients.

We have been asked many questions at the clinic about the virus, that range from; How we can prepare our pets for the chance of the disease knocking on our doorstep, how can we avoid it, and how we can protect our pets if it does?

I will try to provide the highlights;

The canine influenza virus (CIV) is responsible for the illness we call canine influeza or the dog flu. The CIV first appeared in 2004. A vaccine was made to protect against this strain and is widely available through veterinarians in the US. In 2015 another strain hit the Chicago area and quickly affected over a thousand dogs. This strain was not like the original and affects about 80% of the dogs it meets. Because of this the current canine flu vaccine may not protect dogs exposed to the new strain (H3N2).

The virus spreads very quickly via nasal secretions from coughing and sneezing and objects the virus can atach to as it hitches a ride to its next victim. Not all dogs will become ill, but even those not showing signs are capable of spreading the virus, usually in the first four days. With this said it is important to keep separate toys and belongings if you are visiting a dog park, a kennel, or a dog show. We know through other viruses that cross contamination is the vehicle to transmission. Trying to minimize exposure is the best key to protection that we have with this virus.

An affected dog can take one of two possible courses of action. One, become sick with the typical upper respiratory signs (looks a lot like kennel cough) that range from mild to severe and include;

  • cough
  • nasal discharge
  • fever
  • lethargy
Or, they can be carriers and may appear perfectly normal. These dogs can still transmit the disease.

About 10% of the dogs affected in Chicago were very severely affected and some even died.

This disease can be diagnosed at the vets office with a mucosal swab or blood test. The results take a few days to return but it helps us understand who is and is not affected as well as understanding the scope of an outbreak. It is also part of the vaccine guarantee that you receive when your pets are vaccinated at your vets office. We have twice in the past had dogs who boarded with us come down with kennel cough (they were vaccinated and we were not ever sure how they got exposed), but all were diagnosed AND treated for free because they had been appropriately vaccinated by our vets.

There are is no evidence that this disease can be transmitted to humans.

Me and Madeline share close quarters..

Here is my opinion and advice as a vet and dog mom. Every time you take your dog into a heavily populated high turnover environment you place them at a higher risk of exposure to disease. For many of us living in highly populated areas we have to understand that there are also benefits to boarding facilities, doggie daycares, pet stores, dog shows, and even veterinary hospitals. The happiest dogs are those that are with their families as much as possible. For my pups that includes coming to work with me daily. They are social pups who have been raised to be kind to other pets because I have consciously trained them to be this way which can only be accomplished from exposing them to lots of different dogs and people as they grew up. They are an important part of my family and I have always treated and raised them as such. The risk to this lifestyle is disease exposure. I do not take them with me to shelters, nor dog expos. I am too conscious about disease to risk this. I have decided where my line of safety lies and I do not tempt fate further than work and my hospitals kennel when needed. It is a degree of risk that I consciously accept. I live on a farm where my dogs get lots of exercise and therefore do not need a dog park. If I didn't have my farm I would be taking them to a dog park or public trails for exercise. Exercise and play are vital to a pets health and mental stability. A pet who is  excessively sheltered is at a greater risk for anxiety, fear, and health issues. The risk of public disease doesn't outweigh these. No pet should exist in a bubble.

The flu acts like the flu. It is pretty easy to kill (washing with soap and water seems to be very effective, which is why I wash my hands between every single appointment in the clinic), but it can be transferred to dogs via human hands. It can infect dogs and they may become silent carriers. So I cannot even suggest to you to stay away from the sick looking kids (like we do for our human flu patients). Your dog might contract the flu from a dog that looks and acts perfectly healthy. Therefore the only sage advice that I can give is to vaccinate your pet try to avoid high density dog areas, and the rest is good hygiene and luck.

For my clients I want to say the following. We do carry the flu vaccine here at the clinic. Like all vaccines the first time you get it you need a booster in 3 weeks for it to be considered effective. It is $25 per dose. We have carried this vaccine for a few years. When we started to use it we had quite a few adverse reactions and therefore decided to wait on requiring it for our boarders or groomers. I told our concerned clients then that I might someday change my position based on how this disease evolved and how much of a perceived threat it might become. I think I am officially changing my position on my recommendations.

As a vet I stand by the great success modern vaccines have brought to our society but there is always a degree of risk that is assumed as we crowd more organisms together. Disease is its own organism and has its own agenda for survival. There has to be balance in nature we forget that we are all a part of a larger ecosystem and that as we overpopulate over congregate and over extend our resources diseases will find a crack, a way of adapting and a foot hold to hold our numbers at bay. This year it might be H3N2, next year, next decade, next millennium it will be another. Good hygiene, good conscious thought to risk:benefit scenario and a respectful understanding of acceptable population limits are the only keys to trying to outsmart disease. Keep yourself healthy in mind, body, and soul and accept that we are all tiny organisms struggling to survive against and with each other.

The joy of happiness between species.

Chicago Tribune Canine Flu 

Steve Dale's Pet World

If you would like to ask a pet question please visit Pawbly,com. Pawbly is a free Q & A site dedicated to sharing experiences and educating pet people. It is free for all to use. I can also be contacted at the clinic, Jarrettsville Veterinary Center in Harford County Maryland. Or find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

Bubba gives a kiss.

1 comment:

  1. Rather scary stuff, but I am so grateful to you and others by providing this information. the more we know.... Thank you so much