Stay Informed: What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Canine Flu
(This article was originally written for the Bella Vista Neighbors Association Newsletter and published in May 2023.)
It felt like an overnight tidal wave of Canine Flu hit the region’s dogs this past Winter, and within weeks the outbreak was getting coverage from local news outlets. (Texas and Minneapolis have also seen outbreaks this year.) At the start of this outbreak, many folks were using the term “kennel cough” to describe what their dogs were going through, but that quickly changed to “Canine Flu.” Both cause coughing, lethargy and malaise. What’s the difference?
Kennel cough is a broad term and it can be caused by bacteria OR viruses, but secondary infections from KC are normally treated easily with rest and antibiotics. It’s often spread through close contact. However, canine flu is a viral influenza disease, can be much harder to treat, is as contagious as kennel cough, and can exhibit the same set of symptoms so it’s hard to know what is making your pup feel crummy. Canine flu (and Kennel Cough) is spread predominantly through aerosols from coughing, barking and sneezing. (Those pesky aerosol viruses.) According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “virtually all” of dogs exposed to the Canine Flu will become infected. (20% will not have symptoms but can still spread the disease. Are you feeling triggered yet?) And unlike their human best friends, pups can’t wear masks. So how do you keep your pet safe? Talk to your vet about vaccination. Most dogs in Philly are not vaccinated, as the disease has been more prevalent in the South. The outbreak in Philadelphia was so quick that many vets are reporting that they are scheduling appointments months in the future as they wait to get more doses of the vaccines. There is absolutely a supply issue right now so have patience with your veterinary professionals. They’ll get you in as soon as they can! (Fun fact: There is also a vaccination to prevent Kennel Cough. The Bordetella vaccine is often a requirement for daycares and kennels so many dogs are already vaccinated.)
Dr. Majeska from Companion Pet Hospital says, “If your dog is unvaccinated, we do recommend caution with exposure to heavily trafficked areas such as dog parks, daycares and boarding facilities. It's not ideal for so many reasons, but a doggy lockdown is the safest option while we are still in this outbreak scenario. If your dog does show respiratory signs and you call for a visit, expect that you may be asked to have your appointment performed outside, or using a separate entrance. Please avoid sitting in a communal waiting area. Your vet may recommend x-rays - influenza can lead to pneumonia. Antibiotics are not necessarily indicated for flu alone (it's viral) so don't be surprised if they are not given. We are all hopeful that the outbreak is coming to a close, but we are not there yet!”
Moral of the story? Social distancing works for pups too. And if your pup is sick, do the right thing and keep them away from other dogs for three weeks as pups can spread the disease for 20 days. Sounds like we all know a thing or two about viral outbreaks, huh?