H3N2 Canine Influenza: some Q & A

What is H3N2?

Find a good pet sitter and you never have to worry about your pet being sick after you travel!

Find a good pet sitter and you never have to worry about your pet being sick after you travel!

H3N2 is a relatively new strain of canine influenza to dogs in America, it was contained to Asia until March 2015 when an outbreak in Chicago occurred and it has been spreading ever since.  Comfy Creatures has NOT experienced any of our clients with H3N2 and we don’t expect it to be an issue for our clients due to the way we screen and house pets. 

Because it is new strain many dogs have limited resistance and may experience more severe flu symptoms and some dogs have died due to complications from H3N2. Canine Influenza, or “kennel cough” (kennels don’t like that name…….because it’s true), or simply “dog flu”, is a virus. Like people, dogs can catch a flu when exposed to a flu virus. Exposure can be through direct contact with a dog that is infected, or contact with an item that contains the virus (a toy, water dish, collar, leash, bed, etc.). The danger is dogs who are actively transmitting the virus may not show symptoms yet. It is recommended you screen all your dogs playmates and inquire about recent travel history. It should go without saying, avoid other dogs showing signs of coughing!   

This strain is generating a lot of buzz, but do not panic. Exercise precautions, and see your vet if you think your pup was exposed to or is exhibiting signs of the virus. It is important to keep your pet drinking fluids if they do come down sick…canned dog food, boiled chicken and rice, and bone broths are all good options. 

Who is susceptible?

Although the virus spreads easily from dog to dog, there is no evidence that the H3N2 flu can be transmitted to people – however, people can transfer the disease. If an infected dog licks your hand, another dog who licks that hand could contract the virus; or if an infected dog sneezes or snorts on your t-shirt, another dog that comes into contact with your t-shirt could contract the virus.  Additionally, the virus has apparently caused infection and respiratory illness in cats, according to several sources.

How is it transmitted?

Canine influenza is spread via aerosolized respiratory secretions (sneezing, licking), contaminated objects (kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes), and people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. The virus can remain viable (alive and able to infect) on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on hands for 12 hours.

The incubation period is usually two to four days from exposure to onset. This means that dogs are most contagious during the 2-4 day incubation period – even though they may not be exhibiting signs of illness yet.

Because this is still an emerging pathogen, all dogs, regardless of breed or age, are susceptible to infection and have no naturally acquired or vaccine-induced immunity when first exposed to the virus. If the virus enters a kennel, groomer, or other closed group, a large percentage of dogs exposed to the virus are expected to be symptomatic.  Only about 20-25% of infected dogs are expected to remain asymptomatic – but they can still spread the virus.  Although most exposed dogs develop a milder form of canine influenza and recover without complications, some may develop severe pneumonia.

What should you do?

If you have any concerns regarding the health of a pet, or if a pet is showing symptoms of canine influenza, contact your veterinarian. Symptoms may include: a soft, moist cough or dry cough similar to kennel cough; discharge from the nose or eyes; sneezing; lethargy; low-grade fever; loss of appetite.

Thoroughly clean all toys and surfaces your pet has come into contact with. Wash your hands, especially if you have been cleaning surfaces that may have been contaminated (from food dish to toys to crate/bedding) or if you have come in contact with your dogs saliva, urine, feces or blood, before you handle any other pets. Do not board or let your dog socialize with other animals until all symptoms have cleared up. Isolate your pet for two weeks. Make sure your dog has access to water and stays hydrated.

Is there a vaccine?

There are flu vaccines for dogs, however, an H3N2 vaccine has not been developed yet, so the current vaccines won’t protect your dog from this particular strain. A dog who has had the flu may develop some immunity and could be less likely to get it again.

Some dogs may be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t kill the flu virus, but if your dog’s immune system is compromised, antibiotics can help protect against bacteria that can make your dog more sick; they provide immune system support so your dog can fight off the virus.