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The Current State of Canine Influenza

by: Aaron Lamoree, DVM & Juliette Veenstra, RVT

In response to a recent news stories and increasing client concerns about Canine Influenza, we wanted to keep everyone up to date on the latest news on the disease.

Canine influenza is a viral inDogs Playing at the Beachfection that can be spread between dogs by aerosol, direct transmission, and by transmission of respiratory secretions (snot) between pets on toys or other items.

Symptoms are generally very mild and can include a soft, moist cough that may persist for several weeks despite antibiotics and cough suppressants.  Some dogs may lose their appetite, develop a fever, and produce a pus-like nasal discharge.  A small percentage will go on to develop a more severe form of illness characterized by a high fever, lethargy, rapid breathing, and secondary bronchopneumonia.  While  it is true that a small minority of dogs may develop severe pneumonia and may not survive, the vast majority of dogs can be effectively treated and cured.

Canine influenza was first reported on the East Coast in 2004.  It was identified as Canine Influenza “H3N8.”  There were a few outbreaks (and lots of news coverage) between 2004 and 2008, but a true epidemic never developed.  During that outbreak, a vaccine was developed to prevent infection.  Since the illness was never much of a concern in San Diego, we were not carrying the vaccine or recommend it to our clients.

The 2015 outbreak of Canine Influenza in the Chicago area (and a few other states) turned out to be a completely different strain of the Influenza Virus (Canine Influenza A, H3N2).  While many dogs were affected, mortality was very low and the outbreak never developed into a full epidemic. 

Canine influenza remained almost unheard of in Southern California until April of 2017, when an outbreak was reported in Los Angeles.  The affected dogs had been imported from Asia as part of a rescue operation.  All 50 exposed dogs were quarantined.  Of the 35 who were showing symptoms 2 passed away, although veterinarians state that these dogs were suffering from other medical problems in addition to the influenza.

Despite massive news and social media coverage, both strains of Canine Influenza remain exceedingly rare (especially in San Diego). While the disease spreads very quickly, it has a relatively low mortality rate.  Currently, there are both tests for and vaccines to protect against both strains. However, because the disease does not seem to be a threat in San Diego County (and is still extremely rare even further north), we are currently not recommending the Canine Influenza vaccine to our patients.  We also do not believe that local boarding, day care, dog parks, dog beach or other “social” interactions pose a risk to our patients.

Group of Dogs at the Beach

We are planning to monitor for Canine Influenza infections in our area and are watching the SD Veterinary Medical Association website closely for the latest information.  If cases are encountered in our region, we will update clients on vaccine and socialization recommendations as necessary.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We will keep you updated if any further developments come to light.