Every fall your doctor probably advises you to get a flu shot. Part of that reasoning is that once winter hits, we are inside more, therefore in closer quarters with other people and the dry, often heated air makes us more susceptible to infection. It’s estimated that influenza costs to our economy some $10.4 billion in direct medical costs, as well as an additional $16.3 Billion in lost earnings.
So you’re probably thinking, “OK doc, so what has that got to do with my dog or cat?”
Actually, more than you realize!
The good news is that the virus that affects your pet does not affect us.
I repeat: THE VIRUS THAT AFFECTS YOUR PET DOES NOT AFFECT US.
The bad news is that, as we know, viruses can be nasty things. In 2004, a variant of the H3N8 equine influenza infected a number of greyhounds. In 2015, an avian influenza (H3N2) decided to join the party and was introduced to the US in the Chicago area. It followed the interstate through Atlanta and into Florida. I had the misfortune of having to deal with several of these cases, one of which was a cat.
While H3N2 does not require enclosed spaces like ours do, it takes advantage of them. Oddly enough, the way they stopped the Chicago outbreak was to close the dog parks for several weeks. It was so prevalent that a local veterinarian was interviewed multiple times by Chicago TV stations. Towards the end of the outbreak, she had the opportunity to meet a cast member of the show Chicago Fire—who recognized her as “that crazy dog flu lady”!
So, a few facts about the canine influenza strain are in order. First, it is rarely fatal. If you or I get influenza, we are sick for maybe a week. Fido or Luna? They can be sick for a month or more.
Next, it is transmitted like any other respiratory virus: droplets in the air. The scary part is that you can have ten dogs exposed to it who get sick—but only three or four will show signs/symptoms. The others will be asymptomatic spreaders. (Stop me if you’ve heard this somewhere before.)
If your pet does contract canine flu, the symptoms are mostly high fever and lethargy; you don’t see the congestion, coughing or sneezing that go with the human strain. As for headaches, only pets can answer that question.
So basically, if your pet contracts influenza, you’ll be giving them supportive care and anti-inflammatory drugs for several weeks.
Between you and me, it’s a lot easier to prevent disease than treat it—and a lot less expensive and time-consuming as well. We carry the bivalent influenza vaccine that prevents both the H3N8 and H3N2) strains of canine influenza. Initially, it is two shots spaced roughly three to four weeks apart and an annual booster.
If you are planning to travel with your pet or spend a lot of time with them in dog parks, I strongly recommend you get it for your pet. Unfortunately, the vaccine isn’t for cats, but the cases are so few and far between that your cat shouldn’t have to worry.
Remember: When it comes to canine flu, a shot of prevention is worth a pound of cure!