Dr. Kerri Blackburn
H3N2 is a very contagious influenza virus that infects dogs. It emerged in the United States in 2015 and has recently been reported in the Carolinas, having spread here from Florida and Georgia through the dog show circuit. Several dogs in multiple counties have become ill and we are beginning to see the illness spread from show dogs to pet dogs. All total this virus has effected thousands of dogs in more than 30 states. It has also effected a small amount of cats but there is NO evidence that it can infect people.
What does H3N2 cause?
H3N2 causes a respiratory infection which we refer to as dog flu. Common signs include sneezing, nasal discharge and coughing that can last for 2 weeks or more. Many dogs will also have a decreased appetite and fever. A small number of dogs will have a more severe form of the illness that leads to pneumonia and requires in hospital care.
How do dogs get dog flu?
The illness is spread by direct contact with infected dogs or contact with objects and surfaces that have also been contacted by infected dogs. Infected dogs can cough or sneeze and spread the virus up to 20 feet. The virus can survive in the environment for 24-48 hours, but can be easily killed with simple hand washing and laundering/washing objects.
What dogs are at risk?
Most dogs do NOT have a natural immunity to the virus. This means ANY dog can be infected if they are exposed. Dogs at most risk are those that participate in social activities with other dogs. Trips to pet stores, dog parks, grooming facilities, dog shows, boarding kennels and day care centers pose an increased risk.
What should I do if my dog is showing signs of dog flu?
Your dog may have a respiratory infection caused by other respiratory viruses and not the Canine flu virus. This can only be determined by a diagnostic test performed by a veterinarian. If you think your dog is showing signs of dog flu, here are the important steps to follow:
Call our office right away. Do NOT come to the clinic without calling first. If your dog does have dog flu coming into the clinic may put other pets at risk. Be sure to have the following information when you call:
- Your dog’s symptoms and when they started
- If your dog has been involved in any social behaviors
- Whether there were any coughing dogs at said social activity
When you call, our veterinarians will assess your situation and provide specific instructions on when and how they will see your dog to minimize potential exposure to other pets. Based on your pet’s unique situation we may perform the test to confirm dog flu which involves swabbing the throat and nose and submitting these samples to an outside lab. For analysis.
What if my dog is diagnosed with dog flu?
Most dogs recover at home without any complications. Most dogs will recover within 2 weeks but they may remain infectious to other dogs for up to 1 month. It is very important that during that month they remain isolated from other pets.
A small number of dogs with a more severe form of the illness may develop pneumonia and will have labored breathing. Please call our clinic right away if you see these signs as your dog may need special hospitalized care to recover. Fortunately, death from dog flu is rare.
The most important step is to vaccinate your dog against the canine influenza virus. We are strongly recommending that any dogs who participate in doggy social events, boarding, day care or grooming are vaccinated against this virus. The vaccine must be boostered 2-4 weeks after the first dose to ensure adequate response. Just like the human flu vaccine, getting vaccinated does NOT guarantee against infection, but it will make it less likely. Additionally, if your pet has been vaccinated and contracts the virus, the disease is likely to be milder and of shorter duration.
Knowledge and common sense are your best protection against dog flu. Please be aware of any outbreaks in your immediate community and take necessary precautions in avoiding doggy social events in the event of an outbreak.
*Adapted from “Pet Owners H3N2 Canine Influenza Virus Fact Sheet” (June 2017) retrieved from www.vetmed.ufl.edu