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What is Canine Influenza, and Do You Need to Worry About It?

Although Canine Influenza (Dog Flu) has been in the news in the USA for the past several years, it wasn’t until January of this year that the first cases of it appeared in Canada with 2 rescued dogs infecting 5 others in Windsor, Ontario.  More recently, cases were found in the Orillia/Bracebridge/Gravenhurst area, and Northumberland County.  Although there was news of a case present in the Grimsby/Niagara area, no dogs have tested positive at this time.  All of these cases seem to have been contained at this time, and as of March 13th, no newly affected regions have been announced.  However, with many owners travelling across the border or to cottage country with their canine companions, the risk to Canadian dogs remains.

So what is Canine Influenza? 

Symptoms of Dog Flu are very similar to the human flu virus, beginning with coughing, respiratory discharge, fever and lethargy.  The virus is spread through contact with respiratory discharge (nose-to-nose contact), through the air via coughing or sneezing, or contact with contaminated objects such as shared bowls, toys, or clothing of people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. 

At this time, there is no risk of human infection from Canine Influenza.

In the majority of cases, illness in dogs is mild, and treatment consists of supportive care until the virus passes in 7-10 days, although dogs may have a cough for several weeks.  Dogs can remain infectious for up to 24 days, so it is recommended to keep infected dogs quarantined at home for 3 weeks to prevent spread of the infection. 

In rare cases, the infection can become more serious, with dogs developing secondary bacterial infections and pneumonia.  In these cases, dogs will have high fevers, increase respiratory rates and severe depression, as well as anorexia.  In these severe cases, hospitalization may be needed, with IV fluids and antibiotics.  Just as with the human flu, the very young and very old are most at risk of these complications, as well as those with other illnesses and compromised immune systems.

Risk of infection in Canada is low at this time, but if you do travel to the US with your dog (see the map of affected areas at www.dogflu.com), or plan to travel to any of the affected areas of Ontario, it may be advisable to take precautions.  If possible, avoid places where there will be lots of other dogs, as infected dogs may be contagious for 4-5 days before exhibiting symptoms. There is a vaccine available, and if you will be travelling to areas affected by Canine Flu outbreaks, speak to us about having your dog vaccinated.  For full protection, your dog will need a booster vaccine 3-5 weeks after the initial vaccine, and 2 weeks before you travel, so plan ahead!

There is no way to distinguish Canine Flu from other respiratory infections (such as kennel cough) based on symptoms alone, so if your dog is ill, and you feel that he or she may have been exposed to the Canine Influenza Virus, give us a call.  If a visit to the clinic is warranted, we may ask that you keep your dog in the car until we have an exam room available so that other dogs in the waiting area are not exposed to this highly contagious virus.

Visit www.dogflu.com for more information, or give us a call if you have questions about your dog’s risk!

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