Canine flu in Canada: What dog owners need to know
With two rescue dogs brought to Canada being diagnosed with what are believed to be the country’s first cases of dog flu, dog owners are being warned to keep an eye out for the highly contagious virus.
Although there is no human risk from canine influenza, the arrival of the virus does present a few concerns for pooches and the humans who love them. Here’s what they need to know.
What is canine influenza and how did it get to Canada?
Canine influenza, or dog flu, is similar to the human flu but it can only infect dogs.
The virus is not new and is already widespread in parts of Asia. There have also been several outbreaks in the U.S., but Canada has never seen any cases until now.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in southwestern Ontario announced this week it has confirmed infections in two dogs brought to Canada from South Korea by a U.S.-based dog rescue group. Both dogs have the H3N2 strain and their new owners have placed each of them into quarantine, away from other pets.
What are the symptoms of dog flu that I need to look for?
Dr. Scott Weese, an infectious disease specialist at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, says the symptoms of dog and human flus are essentially the same.
“Dogs will get a fever, they’ll feel kind of run down, they’ll get a runny nose, runny eyes, and a cough. That’s usually the main thing the main things will people will see,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday, adding that some dogs also develop mild diarrhea or vomiting.
How serious is dog flu?
Canine flu is a fairly mild disease, Weese says, but a small population of dogs will get more seriously ill.
“Some will get secondary infections with bacteria. Some dogs can die but it’s pretty uncommon. That’s more likely in dogs that already have other diseases: respiratory disease, heart disease or other things that make them more likely to get a serious illness,” he said.
How easily does it spread?
Just like with the human flu, canine flu spreads easily.
“Dogs have a lot of nose-to-nose contact, and that’s where flu is shed. So close contact, sharing items like toys and food bowls will let this virus spread really readily,” Weese said.
Humans can also spread the virus by touching a dog or item contaminated with the virus and then transferring that to other dogs, says Weese, which is why it’s so important for dog owners to wash their hands after contact with a sick animal.
How can I protect my dog from getting sick?
Weese advises that, if you’re out and see a dog that’s coughing and looks sick, keep your dog away from that animal. If your dog does become sick with a cough or runny nose, keep it away from other pets for at least 2 weeks.
Is there a vaccine?
There is a flu shot for dogs, just as there’s one for humans, and it does cover the H3N2 strain diagnosed in the rescue dogs from Korea.
The problem, says Weese, is there is not a lot of vaccine coverage in dogs in Canada because we haven’t had the virus here. But some dog owners have chosen to get it for dogs travelling to areas with dog flu outbreaks.
How much of a threat is canine influenza to humans?
As mentioned, it doesn’t appear that humans can contract dog flu. But one concern flu experts have is with something called “reassortment,” meaning the mixing together of human and dog flus.
That could happen if a dog infected with canine flu also contracted a human flu, and the two strains combined to create a new virus that was capable of infecting humans. That would be a concern, says Weese, because it would create a novel virus that humans had no immunity to.
“It’s really unlikely to happen, but because it’s possible, that’s why we pay attention to it,” he said.