We know that many of our fellow Charleston dog owners have been wondering about the recent media posts about a “deadly” canine dog flu that has been documented in South Carolina. We thought we would take a moment to share with you some bullet points that we know about this recent report, so that you can learn a little more about this virus.
- There are actually two strains of the canine influenza virus: H3N8 and H3N2. Influenza H3N2 is the one that has been currently reported in South Carolina. It has not been reported to spread to people, although nation-wide there has been the rare transmission to cats.
- As of the writing of this blog, we still do not know where in South Carolina this virus was reported or how many dogs have been affected. It may simply be one dog in the upstate or several in the Lowcountry. What we do know is that The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the many schools tracking this disease, especially after a recent new exposure at a dog show in Perry, Georgia. The University of Florida issued a report this week simply listing the states that have had reported cases of H3N2. South Carolina was on this list.
- H3N2 has actually been in South Carolina before this year. A veterinarian in Mount Pleasant diagnosed it in 2 dogs traveling to our lowcountry, after staying in an infected boarding facility in Atlanta, in the spring of 2015. The owner’s vigilant observation of her dogs’ newly developed respiratory signs and the quick thinking of the veterinarian to send off testing for the virus allowed these dogs to be isolated and likely prevented this virus from spreading to other local pets.
- The canine influenza behaves similarly to human influenza. Dogs show signs of coughing, sneezing, lethargy, and fever. The virus is highly contagious, and dogs can spread the disease some time prior to their symptoms becoming readily apparent. Unfortunately, they can remain contagious for up to 4 weeks. The good news is that while the dogs likely feel miserable (much like us when we have the flu), the infection is rarely fatal. The University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s Infectious Disease Department speculates that there is a mortality rate of less than 1% for H3N2 (and less than 5% for H3N8). Similar to people who become sick from the flu, cases are more likely to result in death for individuals who are older, very young, or immunocompromised from another disease. While I appreciate the media for educating our community on the existence of this virus, the Charleston veterinary community sees a higher rates of pets passing away from other more common deadly diseases such as parvovirus, heartworm disease, and exposure to toxins such as antifreeze.
- There are vaccines for H3N8 and H3N2. Similar to vaccinating people for human influenza, vaccination does not result in a guarantee from a complete lack of illness should exposure occur. The goal is to lessen the severity of symptoms should a dog become sick. This is considered one of several “life style” vaccinations that we offer at Charleston Harbor Veterinarians, limited to dogs who complete certain activities regularly that would increase their risk of exposure to this disease. This is similar to a conversation a person may have with their general practitioner about the benefits of receiving an annual “flu shot”.
What can you do to keep our community pets safe?
- Be a good neighbor! If your dog is showing symptoms of coughing, sneezing, ocular drainage, and/or lethargy, this is a time for your dog to stay home and not socialize. This is true for any contagious disease, not just canine influenza. We have many contagious upper respiratory tract infections that are much more common in the Charleston area than canine influenza. If your dog is sick, don’t go to dog parks or to the groomer’s office. If you were making plans to board your dog, see if you can have a family member or a friend come to your home instead. Your boarding and grooming facilities’ owners and your community’s neighbors will thank you for this kindness.
- If your dog is sick, contact your veterinarian. Our physical exam can screen for complications to respiratory infections such as fever, dehydration, and pneumonia. Testing to identify the offending pathogen is available, although it is completed at a reference laboratory and results can take about a week to return. Dogs must also be tested soon after clinical signs start for more accurate results. If indicated, we can prescribe medications to make your dog recover faster.
- Talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s lifestyle to see if vaccination is recommended. Dogs that are exceptionally social or travel may benefit from the vaccination. This would include dogs traveling to dog shows, dogs traveling for agility competitions, regular attendees at doggie day cares, and regular attendees to local dog parks. Individual boarding facilities may start to require this vaccination, in an effort to minimize the chances of an outbreak within their businesses.
If you are making an appointment at Charleston Harbor Veterinarians to have a pet evaluated for a respiratory illness, please, do not be offended if we request to examine your pet in our parking lot, instead of bringing him/her into our building. Like all veterinary practices, we routinely treat the elderly, pediatrics, and patients undergoing immunosuppressant therapy for other illnesses. Due to the contagious nature of this disease, we do not want to place other individuals at risk and have a protocol in place to minimize the spread of respiratory diseases.
Charleston Harbor Veterinarians is here to answer questions that you may have concerning canine influenza and of course other medical concerns you may have. Feel free to contact us at 843-410-8290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also read more about it at both The University of Georgia and The University of Florida veterinary colleges’ websites:
Contributed by: Dr. Janette Blackwood