In early January, the H3N2 strain of the canine influenza virus (CIV) was identified in seven dogs in Windsor and Essex County in Canada as I reported. The dogs had been in the same foster home, so it was easy to tell who they were in contact with, at least in theory. The hope was that flu was contained and wouldn’t be seen in Canada again, at least not anytime soon.
Now, less than a month later, the Windsor Health Unit said a newly confirmed case of H3N2 dog flu has been identified. That dog is not linked to the previously confirmed cases in Windsor. However, to date, no one knows how that dog became infected.
“Based on our information this dog was not part of that initial group and that is why it is important for everyone in the Windsor and Essex region to be aware of their dog’s symptoms and to speak to their vet if they have concerns,” said acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed.
Meanwhile, parts of California continue to be nearly overwhelmed with dog flu. Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine reports over 70 confirmed cases of the H3N2 dog flu strain.
That’s a lot more flu than it sounds. In the Bay area around San Fransisco, Silicon Valley, and the regions in and around San Jose have been hit particularly hard, and the canine influenza virus continues to spread north, south, and east in the state.
There are several labs that identify dog flu, and this count of over 70 is only from one. But moreover, it’s important to know that most dog owners don’t consent to test their dog. There’s a cost related, which most people may rather put toward treatment. Also, it takes a bit of time to get the results, and with a coughing dog most people want to treat (as they can) right away. I say treat as they can because, like the human flu, it has to run it’s course. However, supportive care that works for people is absolutely not recommended for dogs. Tamiflu, other antivirals, and human cough syrups are not recommended for dog flu.
Some dogs require hospitalization, particularly if pneumonia and/or a bacterial infection sets in. Most dogs with flu recover just fine—it just takes a while—but around two to five percent actually die as a result of dog flu.
It’s unknown how many people with dogs that have symptoms of canine flu actually have their dogs tested, but it’s a small percent. So, if more than 70 dogs have been identified by one lab (Cornell), likely as many as a thousand dogs or more could actually have the flu. There is no Centers for Disease Control for pets, so “suspected cases” are not reported to a single record keeper.
What’s more, with dog flu, around 20 percent can carry the bug and be really infectious but never exhibit symptoms. So, their people don’t even think about veterinary care since their dogs appear healthy, even though they actually have the flu and are infectious. When vaccinated, this can’t happen.
The only way to stop dog flu (especially in regions where you know it exists) is either absolute confinement away from other dogs or the vaccine. There’s a vaccine for the most common strain currently going around, called H3N2. There’s also a vaccine for the less common strain (at the moment), H3N8. These are the only two strains of dog flu in the U.S. (unlike the human flu with many strains), so the best bet may be to ask for the vaccine which covers both strains: H3N2 and H3N8. Ask your veterinarian what’s best for your dog.