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At this time of year, everyone, it seems, worries about the flu. But did you know your dog could get it, too? While different from the human flu, canine influenza is caused by a contagious virus identified in several locations in the U.S. Two different strains of the virus have been identified, H3N8 and H3N2. Currently, there is no evidence that people can contract this virus from their pets.
Canine influenza is transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog or by contact with contaminated surfaces, leashes, muzzles, food and water bowls or other equipment. Infected dogs that cough, bark or sneeze can aerosolize the virus (meaning particles disperse into the air), so other dogs may inhale it when they breathe.
So if your dog goes to dog parks, dog shows, doggy day care, grooming or boarding facilities where he comes into contact with other dogs, there’s a chance he could be exposed to the virus.
The majority of patients typically exhibit respiratory signs that are similar to those seen with kennel cough, such as a persistent cough, loss of appetite and nasal discharge. Some dogs with canine influenza may show no signs at all. Others may experience signs that range from a mild fever and lethargy to difficulty breathing, as seen in severe, life-threatening pneumonia.
The small number of cats that have been diagnosed with canine influenza virus (H3N2) in the U.S. experienced a runny nose, congestion, and signs of nausea such as lip smacking and excessive drooling. These cats were in a shelter and may have also been infected with other viruses that can cause upper respiratory signs. Because of their exposure to other animals, cats in shelter situations are generally at a higher risk of contracting influenza than cats in a household environment.
Canine influenza is diagnosed based on a culmination of physical examination findings, clinical signs, history and diagnostic test results. If your veterinarian suspects canine influenza, chest x-rays will most likely be recommended to rule out other respiratory diseases prior to testing for influenza.
Your veterinarian may also swab different regions of your dog’s body such as the nose, back of the mouth, trachea or eye or obtain samples directly from the lungs to submit for testing. Because the virus is only shed for a short period of time, the tests may be negative even though the dog actually has canine influenza. If your veterinarian is still suspicious of influenza, she may submit additional blood tests.
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