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Protecting Pooches from the Flu

Flu season is upon us—and canine companions need protection, too, especially if they are living in a shelter. Canine flu, also known as canine influenza virus (CIV), first emerged a decade ago, and since then it’s affected thousands of dogs.

Most otherwise healthy dogs experience persistent coughing, runny nose and fever, and then they recover. However, some dogs develop a secondary bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment and can progress to pneumonia. The illness remains a significant problem for shelters.

“In shelters, dogs may be more stressed,” says Dr. Gabriele Landolt, who with funding from Morris Animal Foundation was one of the first researchers to study the virus. “They may have other conditions, such as parasites or viral conditions, which make them more likely to develop complications that require antimicrobial treatment.”

The disease spreads easily through respiratory droplets and can live a long time on objects such as clothing and countertops. The only real way to prevent an outbreak is to quarantine sick dogs for about two weeks, but many shelters don’t have capacity to quarantine large numbers of animals. Further complicating things is that dogs are contagious before they show clinical signs of disease.

With Foundation funding, Dr. Landolt and Dr. Miranda Spindel, senior director of shelter medicine, department of research and development for the ASPCA,  studied CIV infections in six shelters, and they discovered findings that could help shelters better manage canine flu outbreaks.

The research team evaluated whether a commonly-used commercially available rapid bedside test could detect CIV infection as accurately as a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. PCR is the current gold standard diagnostic test, but results take 24 to 48 hours. Unfortunately, the rapid test proved to lack specificity, making it an impractical tool for most shelters.

A significant finding from the study was that CIV is introduced from the community through dogs entering the shelter, rather than being perpetuated within the shelter. Dr. Landolt says this discovery was important.

“Shelters in some communities had a bad reputation because they had recurrent outbreaks. There was finger-pointing that it was the shelter’s fault,” Dr. Landolt says. “Our study showed clearly that isn’t the case. If a shelter has a problem with CIV that means the community as a whole has a problem.”

Dr. Spindel agrees that it’s important to know that CIV exists in the community so that both shelters and dog owners can take preventive measures. Study results also suggest that shelters in communities with CIV need be vigilant in their intake processes.

Both veterinarians point out that concern about CIV shouldn’t stop someone from adopting a shelter dog. Once a dog has been exposed to the virus, it develops immunity and usually won’t have a recurrence or suffer from severe long-term consequences.

If your own dog hasn’t been exposed to CIV and it will be spending time in doggie daycare or boarding facilities, especially over the holidays, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about vaccination to keep your pooch healthy this winter season.

The greatest gift to animals is a lifetime of good health. Please help the animals you love today.

By: Heidi Jeter

Categories: Animal studies
November 21, 2014