Every fall, in advance of the coming flu season, the airways are blanketed with reminders for flu shots. Traditionally, veterinarians have not thought pets could contract flu from humans, but during the 2009-10 flu season, a small number of dogs, cats, and ferrets were diagnosed with the new flu virus H1N1, resulting in a paradigm shift for the coming flu season. Getting the flu is no fun and is even less fun if you make everyone around you, including the family pets sick. Here are some tips on keeping the furry members of your family healthy this flu season.
In addition to being susceptible to the human H1N1 flu virus, dogs have their own highly contagious flu virus, H3N8 which originated from an equine flu virus. The canine influenza virus was first reported in Florida at greyhound racetracks in 2004. Since the initial reports, canine influenza has been reported nationwide, with hotbeds in New York, New Jersey and Colorado. Just like the flu spreads rapidly between students in school classrooms, canine influenza spreads from dog to dog in areas where dogs come in close contact with each other, including doggie day care, boarding kennels, shelters and dog runs.
The H3N8 canine influenza virus is just one pathogen associated with canine respiratory disease often called kennel cough. Dogs contracting the flu develop a cough, sneezing and nasal discharge, have a fever, are not very energetic and don’t eat well. Luckily, there is a vaccination to prevent canine influenza virus. It is not considered a “core” vaccine, but your dog’s need for a flu shot should be discussed with your veterinarian as part of a comprehensive preventive medicine plan.
Dogs and cats are not highly susceptible to the human H1N1 virus, but to keep them healthy, you should follow simple hygiene rules. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing or touching your face and nose. Always wash your hands when you come home and before you touch your pet.
Should you get the flu, keep away from all family members including pets. This is a tough recommendation to carry out. When we are sick, having our pets snuggle with us in bed or on the sofa is comforting. But if you have the flu, you are going to have to recover alone. Based on last year’s cases of H1N1 in pets, close contact with a human suffering from flu was a common historical finding.
Finally, get a flu shot, if not for yourself, at least to keep your pets healthy!
You can find information on other infectious diseases prevented by vaccination in dogs and cats by clicking on the links below.