(Welcome to the weekly pet column of Pet Connection Programs Inc. of Marilla, N.Y. A new article is posted each week, so be sure to check back on a regular basis!)
Recently, I got really sick. I had just spent a fun-filled week with all my friends at doggie daycare while my family was on vacation. Shortly after they brought me home, I started coughing a lot. It was really hard to breathe and I started vomiting. I didn’t feel like eating anything and I was tired all of the time. I was miserable. One of my family members missed a couple days of work to try to nurse me back to health. One time we spent the whole night in the bathroom hoping the steam from the hot shower would help my nasty cough. I know it was hard for her as she has a busy job, but she was as scared as I was. When it was clear I wasn’t getting any better, my family decided to take me to my veterinarian, who ran some tests and found that I had contracted H3N2, a new strain of canine influenza (CIV), also known as dog flu.
What we learned about dog flu
My family didn’t know anything about H3N2, but my vet said she was happy that they brought me in to see her. My vet knew a lot about dog flu and was able to answer all of our questions. We were surprised to learn that even though a lot of people don’t know about it, H3N2 has been spreading rapidly across the United States since the first case was reported in 2015. My vet also shared that:
• Social dogs like me, who go to doggie daycare, dog parks, groomers, or really anywhere that dogs, cats and humans come into contact with one another, are at the highest risk for exposure to and contracting dog flu.
• Because most dogs have no natural immunity to this highly contagious disease, nearly every dog who comes across it will become infected.
• H3N8, a relatively less intense strain of dog flu, has been in the United States for more than 13 years, but it can also spread very quickly, like the H3N2 strain.
• In most dogs, dog flu manifests as some coughing, a runny nose and a slight decrease in appetite and energy.
• H3N2 can also cause respiratory problems and vomiting, and serious cases of either strain can lead to pneumonia and even death in severe cases.
• The common kennel cough vaccine doesn’t protect against dog flu.
Dogs are social animals — that puts us at risk
One of my favorite things in the whole world is running around and playing with my friends at doggie daycare and at the dog park, as well as when I go get my bath, haircut and nails trimmed. My vet told us that this was probably how I got sick. Because we can have trouble letting our families know when we’re not feeling well, people may accidentally take contagious dogs out and about, inadvertently causing CIV to spread between dogs that come into contact. Even drinking out of the same water bowl or chewing on community dog toys can expose us to the disease.
However, my vet told my family that because of how contagious the dog flu is and because it can be contagious for up to three weeks, it was important that I stay home from the dog park, groomer or doggie daycare for a while. She compared it to how my little family members stay home from school when they’re sick, in order to keep their classmates healthy. I’m so glad my family listened to my vet-I certainly didn’t want to get any of my friends sick!
Prevention is the best approach
When my vet gave us my diagnosis, she also said that there is no specific treatment or medicine for dog flu, so the best protection is vaccination. Most veterinarians recommend the dog flu vaccine. There is even a combination vaccine that helps to protect against both strains of dog flu, H3N2 and H3N8, which means one less shot for me!
If This Dog Could Talk: Tour to Prevent Dog Flu
Before we left my vet, she told us about the If This Dog Could Talk: Tour to Prevent Dog Flu and we downloaded a copy of the new tour album, created in collaboration with Merck Animal Health and The Dogist photographer Elias Weiss Friedman. The album contains hundreds of beautiful pictures of dogs and shares important information with pet parents about the dog flu. My family and I had so much fun looking at all of the photos and sharing them with our friends — many of whom also had never heard of dog flu before. We all learned about dog flu the hard way, but hopefully you won’t have to!
Visit dogflu.com to download the free tour album for you and the dog you love to see some amazing doggie photos and learn how to keep your pup safe, happy and healthy!
(For more information on pets and animal adoption, please visit www.petconnectionprogramsinc.com. Or, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PetConnectionProgramsinc. Located in Marilla, N.Y., Pet Connection Programs Inc. is a nonprofit maternity and special care shelter founded in 1984.)