Spring is FINALLY here and that means a lot of things to many people. Flowers and sunshine, warmer weather, picnics, barbecues and of course, the end of the dreaded flu season.
But unfortunately that’s not true for our pets. While the flu, or influenza, is seasonal for people, pets can get it all year round.
In cats and dogs, influenza is a respiratory virus that can cause anywhere from mild to moderate illness to severe, debilitating (and sometimes life-threatening) disease. In dogs and cats the most common symptoms that we see are nasal discharge (typically yellow or green in color), an intense cough, high fever, lethargy and a decreased appetite. More severe cases of the disease will develop into pneumonia.
Influenza is highly contagious and because of lack of previous exposure to the virus, dogs and cats have no natural immunity to it and the disease is rapidly transmitted between them. Luckily the H3N2 (dogs and cats) and H3N8 (dogs) flu viruses are not contagious to people or other species of animals at this time. Since influenza is spread in several different ways including via direct contact, aerosolized particles and contaminated dishes and toys, the biggest risk factor for whether our pets will be exposed to and contract the flu virus comes down to their social life.
So, what’s your pet’s social status?
We aren’t talking about how many followers your pet has on Instagram (although we’d bet they have a lot!) or how often your pet’s Facebook status is updated. We are talking about how often your pet interacts with other animals. Dogs who frequent dog parks, boarding facilities, doggie day care or who visit a groomer frequently are at a much higher risk for coming down with canine influenza than those that stay close to home. Age and immune status play a role in risk of infection once dogs have been exposed to the flu.
After a pet has been exposed to one of the flu viruses, they typically start showing symptoms within two to five days and can continue to shed the virus weeks after they no longer have symptoms. If your pet has come down with the influenza virus, treatment consists of supportive health care. This can include intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, balanced nutrition, supplements, cough suppressants and sometimes antibiotics are necessary to treat secondary bacterial infections. Some patients also benefit from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce fever, aches and inflammation.
The best way to protect your social pet is to have them vaccinated. There is now a safe and highly effective vaccine available for dogs at DePorre Veterinary Hospital that protects against the two most common strains of canine influenza: H3N2 and H3N8. Adequate protection for your dog consists of a series of two of these combination vaccines administered a month apart. The vaccine is then boosted annually. If your pet’s social status, risk factors or the prevalence of the flu virus in our area changes, boosting the flu vaccine may be reconsidered at the time your pet is due for their annual booster. Ask your veterinarian if your dog is a good candidate for the Influenza vaccine. Unfortunately, there is not yet an influenza vaccine available for cats. Thank goodness most cats enjoy being anti-social and staying home resting on a sunny patch on the couch!
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