The Florida Veterinary Medical Association has sent an alert about a Canine Influenza outbreak in Palm Beach, Florida. The initial number exceeds 60 reported from a shelter and other pets are being currently diagnosed. This news is a concern for Central Florida because Canine influenza (CI), or dog flu, is a highly contagious viral infection affecting dogs and also cats. There are two strains of canine influenza virus: H3N8 and H3N2. This outbreak is caused by H3N2, the same strain that attacked Central Florida in 2017-2018!
Influenza viruses are dangerous because they can morph and evolve to infect different species, H3N2 is known to infect cats and ferrets but thankfully not humans.
Canine influenza is transmitted through droplets or particles that aerosolize from coughing, barking, and sneezing. Dogs that are in kennels, groomers, day care facilities, and are rescued from shelters are at increased risk. Canine influenza can also be spread indirectly through contact with virus particles left on objects kennels, food and water bowls, collars, and leashes. People that have been in contact with infected dogs can also pass it to healthy ones. Therefore, disinfection and limited contact are paramount to contain this outbreak. Just like our Covid-19 pandemic, basic hygiene, limiting contact, and seeking veterinary vaccines to prevent the disease is the best plan of attack.
The virus can remain infectious on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on hands for 12 hours. It is important to implement washing of hands, changing clothes, and disinfecting shoes if we were in contact with an infected dog.
The incubation period for H3N2 is quick! Dogs may start showing respiratory signs between 2 and 8 days after infection. Dogs are most contagious during the incubation period and shed the virus even though they are not showing clinical signs of illness.
All dogs exposed to canine influenza virus will become infected, with approximately 80% developing clinical signs of disease and 20% being asymptomatic. Of those showing symptoms, 80-90% will recover within 2 weeks with antibiotics and supportive care but approximately 15-20% might become severely ill and develop fatal pneumonia.
Symptoms include a soft, moist cough, nasal and/or ocular discharge, sneezing, lethargy, and anorexia. Many dogs develop a purulent nasal discharge and fever (104-105oF). The nasal discharge is usually caused by secondary bacterial infections.
Tests are available to diagnose and identify strains of the canine influenza virus. We send PCR tests for the diagnosis of canine influenza and recommend treating at home with antibiotics, immune system boosters, and food therapy. If your pet develops pneumonia then hospitalization at a 24-hour facility is indicated.
This is a preventable disease, there is a vaccine available against both strains of this highly contagious virus. Stay away from crowded places where multiple dogs gather like daycare facilities, dog parks, and dog-friendly events. Do not let your dog drink from common dog water bowls. Please contact your veterinarian and protect your pets against the dog flu.