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Emerging viral infections are a constant threat to the health of our dogs. Owners should be aware of the potential risk of these infections, and how best to protect your canine companions. Two new viruses of particular concern today are canine influenza virus A H3N2 and a new strain of canine distemper virus.

Canine influenza A H3N2

In spring 2015, canine influenza made national headlines when it was identified as the cause of a respiratory disease outbreak in Chicago-area humane shelters. The virus is an avian (bird) flu virus that adapted to infect dogs. The virus was first identified in dogs in South Korea in 2007, but had not been detected outside of Southeast Asia until the outbreak in the United States.

Canine influenza A H3N2, similar to the H3N8 strain, is a highly contagious virus and is spread from dog to dog by inhalation, much the same way influenza is spread among people. H3N2 virus is shed by infected dogs for approximately three weeks, which is a longer period of time than H3N8 is shed. Both viruses cause similar signs of upper respiratory infection, such as dry cough, runny nose and fever. The good news is that the majority of dogs recover from influenza infections. Dogs at highest risk for infection are those that frequently come in contact with many other dogs, such as in shelters, dog day care centers, or dog shows.

Canine distemper virus

A new strain of canine distemper virus was first described by researchers in 2011, after a sharp rise in canine distemper cases was noted worldwide. Veterinary scientists at the University of Tennessee reported in 2015 that this strain first appeared in the southeastern United States. Although the group felt that the current canine distemper vaccine might not fully protect dogs from the new strain of virus, they concluded that the current vaccine remained the best preventive against this newest strain of CDV. CDV causes both respiratory signs such as cough and fever, as well as gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. The virus also can affect the nervous system, causing seizures, incoordination and muscle twitching among other signs.

Prevention through good health

The best protection against infectious agents in our dogs is maintaining good health through preventive medicine, proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and good old TLC. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is a great opportunity to look closely at infectious disease patterns over time, including emerging infectious diseases

Morris Animal Foundation has been active in infectious disease and vaccine research since 1956. The Foundation funded its first study focused on canine distemper virus in 1960, and its first canine influenza A H3N8 based study in 2005, just as the infection was sweeping across the country. The Foundation also was involved in the original science which contributed to the creation of the first modified-live canine parvovirus vaccine. As part of our commitment to animal health, we continue to be a global leader in addressing emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases in dogs.