Flu Awareness

Companion Inside Sales

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After last year’s devastating human influenza epidemic, people will likely be lining up in record numbers to get a flu shot this season. Everyone from primary care clinics, drug store chains, grocery store pharmacies and the media keep the flu and how to prevent it top-of-mind this time of year. This creates a perfect opportunity for you to help your veterinary customers create awareness of the prevalence and prevention of canine influenza or CIV – the dog flu.

What started out in 2004 as a relatively small outbreak of the H3N8 strain among racing greyhounds in Florida has now spread to nearly every state. In 2015, the far more contagious and long-lasting H3N2 strain appeared. In 2016, a group of cats in an Indiana shelter were diagnosed with H3N2, probably transmitted to them by infected dogs. By April of this year, all but four states in the U.S. had reported at least one – or both – strains of the illness.

While not every person exposed to the flu will catch it, canines aren’t so lucky. According to the AVMA, since the H3N2 strain is so new and dogs have yet to build up an immunity to it, virtually every unvaccinated dog exposed to the virus will become infected. There is no season for canine influenza as there tends to be for human outbreaks, but there are lots of activities around the holidays that increase potential exposure to infected dogs, making this an ideal time for discussions with your customers. Dog owners boarding or traveling with their pets; going to doggie daycare or an indoor dog park for exercise during bad weather; or to a grooming facility for a bath and trim before cold weather sets in are all at an increased risk for dog flu.

The virus spreads easily from dog to dog, through an infected animal’s coughs, sneezes or saliva, from food or water bowls, or from playing with a contaminated toy. It can even be spread on human clothing, or by petting an infected dog. The virus can remain viable on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothes for 24 hours and on unwashed skin or hands for 12 hours.
Differences between the strains
There are several differences in the two strains to keep in mind:

H3N8 has an incubation period of one to five days, with clinical signs generally appearing two to three days after exposure. Dogs remain infectious for seven to 10 days.

Dogs with H3N2 can start showing respiratory signs between two and eight days after infection, and can remain infectious up to 24 days.

Dogs are most contagious during the incubation period and can spread the virus even when they aren’t showing clinical signs of infection. Approximately 80 percent will develop clinical signs of respiratory infection. Common symptoms include a low-grade fever, a cough which can be dry or may bring up sputum, a runny nose that can range from clear to thick, ocular discharge, lack of energy and loss of appetite. About 20 percent of dogs show no signs of illness, but a dog that appears healthy can still shed the virus and spread infection. A small percentage of dogs are more severely affected and can exhibit clinical signs of pneumonia, like a high-grade fever and an increased respiratory rate and effort. Although very rare, deaths due to H3N2 have been reported.

As with most viral diseases, CIV can’t be cured with medication, so treatment involves mainly supportive care. This may include antimicrobials for secondary bacterial infections, NSAIDS to reduce fever and inflammation, and fluids as needed for dehydration or to maintain hydration. Most dogs recover within two to three weeks.

The best prevention and protection against canine influenza is one of the several vaccines available for both H3N8 and H3N2, and bivalent vaccines which protect against both strains. Vaccinating reduces the risk of a dog contracting CIV, and while it may not completely prevent infection, much like with human flu vaccines, it may reduce the severity and duration of the clinical symptoms. Dogs or puppies require an initial series given two to four weeks apart, and a dog shouldn’t be considered protected from disease until two weeks after the second vaccination. After the initial series, they should be vaccinated annually.

The canine influenza vaccine is considered a “lifestyle” rather than a core vaccine. The 2017 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Guidelines state that “any dog deemed at risk for exposure to influenza virus should be vaccinated against both H3N2 and H3N8 strains.” Dogs that are given kennel cough (Bordetella/parainfluenza) vaccine may benefit from a canine influenza vaccination, since the risk groups are very similar. A survey conducted by Merck Animal Health showed that one in four pet care facilities in the United States now require a dog flu vaccine before accepting dogs.

With the holidays – and holiday travel – approaching, be ready to discuss vaccine protocols with your customers and ask if their canine patients may be at a higher risk for canine influenza due to increased exposure to other dogs – particularly your clinics in large metropolitan areas where dogs are often in “social” situations with close contact, and practices in those areas where there have been CIV outbreaks. DogFlu.com has an Outbreak Map with the latest prevalence data and the CIV strains identified in each state that’s a great reference to prepare for those conversations.

Since an outbreak of CIV in New York City early this year, articles about canine influenza have been in the news in publications ranging from Popular Science to Real Simple, and even Instagram pooch Manny the Frenchie (with 1.1 million followers) has been spreading the word about preventing dog flu. With human flu prevention in the headlines now, it’s an optimal time for your clinics to stress the importance of protecting our canine companions from influenza, too. You can make sure they’re well-stocked with vaccines and supplies, as well as help them source the information they can use on social media, by email, text or in-clinic to educate pet owners about this disease and truly be a valued resource to your customers.