Michigan is possibly facing its biggest canine influenza outbreak since 2015, and the metro Detroit area has more positive cases than veterinarians here have ever seen.
“To have four cases is a big deal when we don’t tend to see it at all,” said Dr. Shirene CeCe, a Michigan Humane Society veterinarian.
Four cases of a particular strain of canine influenza, H3N2, have been positively identified in Michigan. All of the cases are in the metro Detroit area, with two cases in Macomb County, one in Wayne County and one in Oakland County, according to Oakland Veterinary Referral Services.
However, flu viruses are known to mutate and spread.
“That (number) could change by tomorrow because it is such a contagious virus,” CeCe said.
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Canine influenza or dog flu is a viral respiratory disease, kind of like the flu humans get.
Although it is mostly treated like a bad cough or cold, dog flu can cause dogs to get secondary infections, such as pneumonia, and can be fatal.
“It’s a disease to take seriously,” CeCe said.
Here are five things to know about canine influenza, based on recommendations from veterinarians and health organizations:
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of canine flu include sneezing, fever, nasal discharge, decreased appetite and general lethargy. The No. 1 symptom is coughing.
“Coughing is the hallmark,” CeCe said. “A really intense cough.”
However, coughing can be a from a number of things, including “kennel cough” said Dr. Jessica Romine, a small animal internal medicine specialist for BluePearl Veterinary Partners.
So be vigilant if your dog is coughing or feeling bad, but remember it can be caused by a number of things and you should call your veterinarian to see what you should do next.
It’s highly contagious
Dog flu can spread through direct contact, like dogs nuzzling each other, through the air from a cough or sneeze, from contaminated objects like dog bowls and from human touch.
Romine said the germs don’t last in an area forever, but they can survive on human hands for 12 hours, on clothes for 24 hours and a dog bowl for 48 hours.
CeCe said dog flu, like the human flu, is highly contagious. A dog’s cough can make the virus airborne up to 20 feet.
The virus tends to travel quickly in areas where a high number of dogs congregate, including kennels, dog parks, breeding facilities and dog shows.
There have not been any cases of dog flu in shelters, but there is a plan in place to handle a situation if it should arise, CeCe said.
Romine said a dog is contagious two to eight days after it contracts the illness, and the cough can last 10 to 21 days.
The H3N2 is a relatively new strain, appearing for the first time in 2015. As such dogs have not developed a natural immunity and all are vulnerable to it. Younger and older dogs, and dogs with other health issues, tend to be even more vulnerable, CeCe said.
Because the virus is so contagious, BluePearl Veterinary Partners recommends pet owners call their primary veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital instead of taking the dog straight there. This could help keep dogs in the waiting room from getting sick, as a veterinarian or technician may choose to meet the owner and dog in the building’s parking lot.
How to prevent your dog from catching dog flu
The virus is easily killed by disinfectants, and there are vaccinations for dog flu.
To be vaccinated for both strains of dog flu (H3N2 and H3N8), the dog can receive a two-shot series. It gets one shot, waits two to three weeks, then gets the second one, CeCe said.
“That’s the best protection you have,” she said.
She said it is important to keep the pets from areas with a high concentration of other dogs, like dog parks, until they get vaccinated.
CeCe said dog owners should call their vet to make sure they have the vaccine, and then set an appointment to go in. Romine said the vaccine can decrease the severity of dog flu signs and can decrease the amount of “shedding,” or spreading of the disease, the dog does.
What to do if your dog gets dog flu
Even the best laid out plans can fall through, so what do you do if your pup does contract dog flu?
Treatment is basically supportive, as there is not a cure for dog flu. So it’s important to make sure the dog is hydrated and comfy.
The dog may be dehydrated and stop eating and drinking, and if the virus is not handled well, some get secondary infections — like pneumonia.
“There is no magic cure for influenza, just like when people get them,” CeCe said.
Antibiotics don’t treat the flu itself, only the secondary infections. The morbidity rate, or the number of exposed dogs that develop dog flu, is estimated at 80 percent, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association website.
Romine said in cases of the flu, 80 percent of dogs will show symptoms while 20 percent are silent carriers. She also said 90 percent of the cases will basically be treated like a bad cough, but for less than 10 percent, the dog could get pneumonia and need more attention.
Most turn out just fine, though.
You should be “dealing with them just like a person with a cold,” she said.
No humans have reported getting dog flu
Experts do not think dog flu can spread to people, according to Romine and CeCe.
There have been very rare reported cases of the flu spreading to cats, but there have no reported cases in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
The CDC conducted a risk assessment of the canine flu virus H3N2 using a risk assessment tool and found the risk to be low.
It also conducts year-round surveillance for seasonal and novel influenza viruses, and all human infections are fully investigated.