Dog and Cat Owner Alert: How To Prevent Or Vaccinate Against Canine Influenza In Both Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats can become infected with a contagious virus, similar to human flu. The virus, known as canine influenza H3N2 is transmittable to cats as well as dogs, unlike H3N8 which only infects dogs. A new strain from the far east, called H3N2, caused a major outbreak just last year in Chicago. H3N2 is far more contagious than the H3N8 strain of canine flu, that has been studied in the U.S. since 2004. H3N2 is spreading. The risk is greatest in the Chicago area, but it could spread beyond its current boundaries without warning. Humans are not susceptible to either of the currently existing strains of this virus according to the CDC, but humans can transfer virus from one animal to another.

Canine Influenza can be transmitted via human clothing or by hand if people handle an animal with canine influenza and then handle another animal without changing clothes and washing their hands. During the incubation period, animals show few or no symptoms of the disease, but this is when they are most contagious according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. For this reason, it is always best to clean your hands and change clothing after handling other people’s animals, and before handling your own pets.

Dogs and Cats who share public areas with other dogs are at risk. Unlike bacteria which quickly dies on dry open surfaces, a virus can remain dormant for long periods of time, unless specifically washed away or killed with an antiviral cleaning agent.

Dogs who come into contact with other dogs are especially at risk. This is the most common means of transmission. Dog parks, grooming salons and even the veterinary office, for example, can harbor germs, allowing them to spread from one animal to another. Direct contact between animals is probably the most risky of all for the spread of disease.

Cats are now also at risk for contracting at least one strain of canine influenza. It has been discovered that cats can catch H3N2 canine influenza from dogs or from infected cats. It is important to stop the spread of this disease, both within the canine species and to prevent the cross spread to the feline or other species. Containing the outbreak in Chicago could fail because, now more than ever, pets travel.

 Dog socialization is fun, but unsafe during a Canine influenza epidemic by Sean Gallup Getty Images.jpg
Dog socialization is fun, but unsafe during a Canine influenza epidemic. [Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]
The easiest way to prevent canine influenza is to avoid contact with other animals from outside the home. People with multiple pets need not worry unless their animals leave the home. Just like human flu, one must be exposed to the virus in order to contract the disease. Many people never allow their animals to leave or associate with other pets, so the risk of spreading diseases is virtually nil under those conditions.

Dogs and cats who regularly come in contact with other animals can be vaccinated against the flu, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. These vaccines are not 100 percent fool proof. Just like human flu vaccines, they could be ineffective against new strains of the disease, but the vaccine has proved very effective in the past. Annual vaccination injection or monthly drops are equally effective for dogs and cats.

For dogs and cats, canine influenza can be very uncomfortable, just as human flu is for people. Though less than ten percent of infected animals die of the disease, is that really a risk any pet owner wants to take? Pet owners should be vigilant and watch their potentially exposed pets that have not been vaccinated for symptoms. Though there are a few, relatively harmless diseases that may seem similar to the flu, it is generally better to be safe than sorry.

Keep dogs safe when walking in the city Ben A. Pruchnie.jpg
Keep pets safe even in the city with vaccinations. [Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Land Securities]
Dogs are susceptible to Kennel cough, or canine cough. This is not nearly as serious as canine flu. Symptoms of canine influenza in dogs are very difficult to differentiate from other canine illnesses. Any sign of difficulty breathing or high fever could be quite serious. It is best to take dogs with cold like symptoms to the vet to be tested so they can receive treatment.

Symptoms of H3N2 canine flu in cats, include nasal mucus, congestion of lungs, trachea and/or nasal passages, excessive salivation, lip smacking, lethargy and fever. Cats with these symptoms generally require medical attention.

Dogs and cats can develop pneumonia as a complication of canine flu. Pneumonia is serious and can be fatal. Pet owners should take sick animals to vets for medical attention for apparent respiratory illnesses lasting more than a few days, or that are accompanied by fever or difficulty breathing.

Dogs and cats with exposure to other animals or areas where other animals play should receive a flu vaccine, especially those who live near the Chicago area.

[Photo by China Photos/ Getty Images]

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