Canine influenza is (once again) causing big problems in some parts of the western US. Following reports of influenza outbreaks in animal shelters in Oakland, California, it’s apparent that it has spread within California shelters and to an Oregon shelter. It is also affecting pet dogs in various cities in California.
It’s not surprising that these problems have surfaced again. H3N2 canine flu has been present in the US since it was first introduced from Asia in 2015, and continual re-introductions are probably occurring from importation of dogs from endemic areas. That’s how we got it in Canada, but we were able to contain and eradicate it Ontario (twice).
Here are a few key points for people in affected areas OR who are travelling with dogs to those areas OR moving dogs from those areas.
- Canine influenza looks like any other type of “kennel cough.” There’s nothing clinically that says a dog’s illness is “flu” vs “not flu.” Dogs with respiratory disease that have been in affected areas should be considered flu suspects.
- If your dog has a fever, cough, runny nose or eyes, or any other signs of respiratory disease, keep it away from other dogs. Dogs can shed H3N2 for a few weeks, so keeping any flu cases isolated from other dogs for at least 28 days is the goal.
- If your dog has signs of respiratory disease, definitely don’t take it to a kennel or other place where there are lots of other dogs. That’s how we end up with rapid widespread transmission. When the flu virus gets into a place like a shelter or kennel, it spreads quickly. Often, most or all dogs get infected. Some might not look sick, but they can still be infectious.
- If you think your dog might have flu, call your vet. Don’t just show up at the clinic. If your dog needs to be seen by a vet, calling in advance can let them make plans to reduce the risk of exposure of other dogs at the clinic.
Vaccination against H3N2 can be useful but cannot be relied on as the primary means of infection control. It’s like any influenza vaccination (including the ones used in people) – it’s not going to totally prevent most individuals from getting infected. It’s designed to reduce the incidence and severity of disease. For me, its role is to reduce the likelihood that an infected dog will get seriously ill or die. That’s certainly useful, but vaccination is not a way to prevent flu from getting into a kennel or shelter, or spreading once it’s there.
While canine flu is highly contagious, it can be contained, with effort. We were able to contain it when it hit Ontario a couple times in 2018, with a lot of testing, communication, quarantine and probably a healthy dose of luck, to be honest. Sometimes, people take an “oh well, it’s here and there’s nothing we can do” approach. There’s almost always something that can be done -usually good ol’ basic infection control measures will go a long way.