In 2015, the city of Chicago faced a heartbreaking health crisis.
Not a single person ended up in the hospital due to this threat; no one missed work. Still, the suffering was unbearable.
This illness pulled a dirty trick. It went after man’s best friend.
The H3N2 flu virus doesn’t thrive in human bodies. It infects dogs and, more rarely, cats. The 2015 Chicago outbreak saw 1,000 pets brought low with fever, fatigue, and runny noses. In other words, this virus does to dogs pretty much exactly what the flu does to people.
Veterinarians were able to treat the flu victims in Chicago, and eventually, the epidemic passed. But the virus was only biding its time. In June 2017, the dog flu resurfaced, this time in the Sunshine State. As of this writing, 12 dogs have been diagnosed with canine influenza in Florida, and those numbers are almost certain to rise. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Is your dog at risk?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), canine influenza is caused by a newer virus. As a result, dogs haven’t yet developed immunity.
“Almost all dogs, regardless of breed or age…, are susceptible to infection if exposed to the active virus,” the AVMA states on its website. “Virtually all dogs exposed to the virus become infected, and nearly 80 percent show clinical signs of the disease.”
2. How serious is dog flu?
The symptoms of canine influenza are similar to the flu we’re all familiar with. In its most common form, dog flu causes coughing, fever, lethargy, and runny nose. In rare cases, dog flu is accompanied by pneumonia and fevers of up to 106 degrees. That’s when the illness becomes truly dangerous.
3. Is the dog flu ever fatal?
Just like its human counterpart, canine influenza rarely leads to death. However, fatalities are not unheard of. The AVMA places the fatality rate of dog flu at less than 10 percent.
4. How long does dog flu last?
The vast majority of infected animals get over the illness in two or three weeks.
5. This latest outbreak is in Florida. Are dogs in other states at risk?
The short answer is “yes.” Since its U.S. debut in 2004, canine influenza has popped up in at least 40 states. The risk of infection rises considerably when dogs have contact with each other, as in kennels, dog parks, and animal shelters.
6. What can we do to protect our pets from the dog flu?
The best way to prevent infection is to prevent contact with a sick animal. The virus spreads through nose-to-nose contact between dogs, said Keith Poulsen, a veterinarian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
However, Dr. Cynda Crawford of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine said in a news conference that the virus “is also spread very effectively and efficiently with contact through contaminated clothing, contaminated hands, contaminated objects in the environment.”
Talk to your veterinarian. If dog flu has been a problem in your area, your vet might recommend vaccinating your pet.
“The more dogs in a community that we can vaccinate to build up community immunity, the better chance we have of keeping that virus out,” Crawford said.