As If Things Could Not Get Worse: Beware of Dog Flu and Lepto

dog flu

Last night I was with friends and one person mentioned dog flu. Dog flu? My ears perked up. What was she talking about? We are already in the thick of the Delta-variant of covid-19. How much more can anyone take? She was not talking about humans. She was talking about dogs. As a devoted pet parent it seemed to make things all the worse. Would I now have to mask my Maltese? Or vaccinate him? Not a mask but depending on how much exposure one’s best friend has to others dogs maybe a vaccine.

What is dog flu and why all of a sudden did it come up in conversation? It seems that there is an outbreak of dog flu and it is back in the news. Our fur babies can get sick just like we can and raising the awareness about canine (and feline) illness is essential to keeping our pets healthy and happy. 

“Canine influenza is back in the news in the US, with close to 50 dogs infected with canine influenza at a dog rescue in Florida. The outbreak has been going on for over two weeks already.” 

Is this unusual? Yes and no. This report was from late July. My friend mentioned it last night. So something is going on. 

“It’s more towards unsurprising though. We were able to eradicate canine influenza (as far as we can tell) in Ontario, Canada, when it hit here in 2018, but that took a lot of surveillance and effort, and we intervened very quickly after introduction of the virus. With widespread disease in the US over the years after multiple introductions from Asia and no broad control plan, it was expected that canine flu would continue to spread on this continent – sometimes insidiously, sometimes dramatically. Since the virus is so transmissible and vaccine coverage is low, it can spread quickly, but disease can also burn out in a particular area if infected dogs don’t continue to meet susceptible dogs.”

It sounds very similar to what humans are experiencing with covid-19. If we stay away from each other we are okay but if we congregate then we become susceptible. If we vaccinate then we have a better chance of not getting sick or it not spreading and if we don’t – well we see how that is turning out. 

The cases were confirmed that it is canine influenza and not another ailment that might present with similar symptoms.

“Originally found in the U.S. in 2015, H3N2 canine influenza has made its first appearance in Florida. Officials confirmed seven cases of H3N2 canine influenza early last week with six other pending cases of the disease.”

“H3N2 canine influenza is highly contagious and symptoms appear 2 – 4 days after exposure to the virus. Dogs can transmit influenza to other dogs between 1 and 5 days after they initially become infected, so a dog may share the virus with and infect other dogs before it appears to be ill. Cats in the U.S. have occasionally been diagnosed with H3N2 infections.

So what exactly is canine influenza? And can it infect humans? No it cannot infect humans but it can infect your cat and other dogs so if you think your dog may be showing symptoms please get them to the vet immediately. 

“Canine influenza is a viral disease that causes symptoms similar to those experienced by humans with flu, including cough, sneezing, lethargy, fever, and discharge from the nose and eyes. There are two known influenza viruses that can infect dogs in the United States.” 

There are two strains of canine influenza: H3N8 and H3N2. 

“The virus known as H3N8 canine influenza has existed in North America since 2000, when a strain of influenza in horses spread to dogs. Today, the H3N8 virus is rarely seen.”

“H3N2 was found in the US in 2015. First found in Asia in 2005 or 2006, H3N2 is derived from an avian virus that gained the ability to infect dogs. H3N2 has been found in household dogs, dogs in shelters, and in breeding facilities.”

It was the H3N2 strain that sickened hundreds of dogs in the midwest in 2015. 

“Scientists at Cornell University’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center identified H3N2 as the cause of the canine influenza outbreak that plagued the Chicago area and other parts of the Midwest. The outbreak, which began in early 2015, has now sickened 1000’s of dogs. It has spread to several other states, with a current outbreak in the Southeastern U.S.” 

The problem with this illness is that your dog can infect other dogs (and your cat) before they show signs of being sick. 

“Symptoms appear 2-4 days after exposure to the virus. These symptoms begin to diminish 5 days after exposure. Dogs can transmit influenza to other dogs between 1 and 5 days after they initially become infected, so a dog may share the virus with and infect other dogs before it appears to be ill.”

The symptoms could resemble other canine illnesses so if you think your furbaby is under the weather then please get them to the vet as soon as possible. 

“Dog flu symptoms resemble kennel cough symptoms, which is also an illness you should talk to your veterinarian about as soon as you notice symptoms.”

“Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, lethargy, fever, and discharge from the nose or eyes. Most dogs infected with H3N2 influenza will only experience a mild upper respiratory tract illness and recover within a few days. Dogs with more severe cases of influenza are often suffering from additional viral or bacterial infections.”

“Dog flu cases range from mild to severe and, unlike human influenzas, are not seasonal.”

Most of the cases are mild but some can be severe and I suspect if you have a senior dog or a dog with underlying health issues then the risk is greater. Any fatality is one too many. Just like with covid a fatality can and should be avoided at all costs. 

“Most cases of dog flu are mild, but severe cases do occur. In those instances, dogs develop pneumonia, difficulty breathing, and a high fever. Luckily, the mortality rate is relatively low, with less than 10 percent of dog flu cases resulting in fatalities.”

How do you prevent your dog from getting dog flu? 

“The best way to prevent your dog from contracting dog flu is to keep him away from public places or kennels with recently reported cases. If you come into contact with a dog that you suspect has dog flu or has recently been exposed to it, wash your hands, arms, and clothing before touching your own dog. This will reduce the risk of transmission from you to your dog.”

“There are vaccines available for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine influenza. Your vet may recommend the vaccine based on your lifestyle. For instance, if you live in an area with a high incidence of dog flu or if your dog regularly spends time in kennels or travels to shows around the country, then he could be at an increased risk of contracting canine influenza and your vet may recommend the vaccine as a precaution.”

In the worst case scenario what do you do if your dog gets dog flu? The very first thing is if you think your pet is showing symptoms take them to the vet, do not wait! There are 24/7 animal hospitals if it is a weekend and your regular vet is closed. Waiting can be fatal. If you were showing signs of covid you would not wait so give your pet the same care and consideration.  

“The canine influenza virus requires the attention of a veterinarian. In some states, vets are required to report cases of canine influenza to the government to help monitor the spread of the disease.”

“There is no cure for dog flu. Treatment is supportive, and your veterinarian can advise you on the best ways to keep your dog comfortable during his illness and recovery. Some dogs may require supportive care, such as fluids, to aid their recovery, as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce fevers. Your vet will help you come up with a nutritional plan and may prescribe antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.”

“Your vet will also inform you about appropriate quarantine procedures to prevent the spread of dog flu, depending on the strain of the virus your dog contracts, and can give you information about disinfectant solutions to use in your home to help kill the virus.”

“Call your vet ahead of time to let her know that your dog is showing symptoms of a respiratory infection. Both kennel cough and dog flu are highly contagious, and your vet may request that you keep your dog outside until your appointment time to prevent the risk of transmission to other patients in the waiting room.”

What about cats? As indicated your cat can catch dog flu from your dog. And then pass it to each other in multiple pet households. 

“In early 2016, a group of cats in an Indiana shelter ​ were infected with H3N2 canine influenza (passed to them by infected dogs). The findings suggested that cat-to-cat transmission was possible. Cats infected with H3N2 canine influenza show symptoms of upper respiratory illness, including a runny nose, congestion, malaise, lip smacking and excessive salivation.”

In Los Angeles veterinarians have been put on high alert this past week both with increased cases of dog flu and Lepto. What is Lepto? 

“Leptospirosis (lepto) is a disease caused by a bacteria called Leptospira interrogans. It can infect multiple species of mammals, including humans, dogs, rats, mice, raccoons, skunks, opossums, cows, and pigs. Lepto is occasionally diagnosed in dogs in LA County.”

“Westside dog owners are being alerted to higher-than-average numbers of cases of Leptospirosis (Lepto), a pathogenic bacterium, in dogs, as well as an outbreak of canine influenza. Dr. Jennifer Sinatra, from the Los Angeles County Veterinary Health, said the county typically sees about 10-12 cases of Lepto a year, but say that number jumped to 75 cases since late spring, a majority noted in July. There have been 46 suspected cases of Canine Influenza, the largest outbreak in LA County to date.”

“Sinatra said the Department of Health is seeing most Lepto cases on the westside of Los Angeles, including areas like Venice, Santa Monica and Brentwood.”

What are the symptoms of Lepto? 

“In dogs: Symptoms are variable and are most commonly associated with kidney damage which may include fever, lethargy, low appetite, vomiting and increased or decreased urination and thirst.  Diarrhea and liver damage or yellowed mucus membranes (gums) may also be seen.”

 “In humans: Symptoms are variable and may include fever, severe headache, and muscle aches. In severe cases, people may have yellowed mucus membranes, cause kidney damage and respiratory distress. Click here to learn more about lepto in people.” 

How is Lepto spread?

“Infection occurs when the urine of an infected animal contacts the eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin of another animal or a  person. Exposure to water or mud contaminated with urine may also spread it. In the United States, most human cases of lepto occur after recreational exposure to contaminated lakes or streams, not from dogs. The bacteria is shed in the urine of an infected dog. Therefore a person caring for a dog with lepto should wear gloves, especially when cleaning up urine.”

“The disease is transmitted from canine to canine via bite wounds and ingestion of infected tissues.”

“Most cases of Lepto have been reported in congregate settings such as dog parks, doggy daycare and other group activities.”

How is Lepto treated in yourself or in your pet?

“If your pet has been confirmed by your veterinarian as having leptospirosis, the appropriate action to take will depend on the nature of contact with your pet. Normal daily activities with your pet will not put you at high risk for leptospirosis infection. Types of contacts that are considered to be high risk include:

  • Direct or indirect contact with urine, blood, and tissues of your pet during its infection.
  • Assisting in the delivery of newborns from an infected animal.”

“If you have had these types of high-risk contacts with your pet during the time of its infection, inform your physician. If common symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, and headaches, occur within 3 weeks after a high-risk exposure, see your physician. Tests can be performed to see if you have this disease.”

“Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics. If an animal is treated early, it may recover more rapidly and any organ damage may be less severe. Other treatment methods, such as dialysis and hydration therapy may be required.”

“The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more.”

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question. And it seems that is the question on everybody’s mind for both humans and now pets. How to keep our loved ones safe whether they walk on two feet or four? We know how the vaccination dilemma is turning out for humans with covid-19 so a discussion with your vet as to whether your dog should get vaccinated against dog flu or Lepto would be the best course of action. It’s bad enough to see sick humans who can tell you they feel sick. It’s even worse when the loved one does not have the words to say so. 

“Vaccines are available for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine influenza virus. The CIV vaccination is a “lifestyle” vaccination, recommended for dogs at risk of exposure due to their increased exposure to other dogs – such as boarding, attending social events with dogs present, and visiting dog parks. Your veterinarian can provide you with additional information about the vaccines and whether you should consider vaccinating your dog.”  

Vaccination for leptospirosis is an option to consider if your dog is at high risk of contracting the disease. The American Animal Hospital Association considers Leptospirosis a “non-core” vaccine for dogs. That is, they do not recommend it unless there is a good chance your dog will be exposed to Leptospirosis. The efficacy of the vaccine is variable: short lasting or limited. There have been reports of reactions to the vaccine that vary from minor to severe.”

“Vaccination does not always prevent infection, but it tends to make the disease much milder if infection occurs. There is the potential for vaccinated dogs that do become infected to become long term carriers of Leptospirosis. Some long-term carriers have more frequent incidence of reproductive failure and stillbirths.”

“As with all vaccinations, you should discuss the vaccine for Leptospirosis with your veterinarian. This decision will be based on you and your dog’s life style, if your community is experiencing cases of Leptospirosis, and the other pros and cons your veterinarian has experienced with the vaccine.”

For all readers, humans and those with four legs stay safe and if you are feeling sick please do not hesitate to see your doctor or veterinarian.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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