As Californians suffer through the worst flu season in years, “dog flu” is getting more attention after a recent outbreak in the San Francisco Bay area.
There is no evidence that canine influenza can be spread to humans, but among dogs it is a highly contagious virus that can lead to serious complications or even death.
No cases have been confirmed in Santa Barbara County, but according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 72 reports of canine flu have been reported in California in the past six weeks, including several cases in San Luis Obispo County.
Canine flu is spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions and/or contact with contaminated items such as bowls or toys, and the virus can survive for one to two days on hard surfaces.
“Dog flu” can spread rapidly at boarding facilities, groomers, doggie day cares, dog parks, and other places where dogs co-mingle. And the virus can be shed by dogs for up to 24 days, even by a dog that no longer seems sick.
Symptoms include fever, coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, lethargy and loss of appetite, although some infected dogs do not show any symptoms. Most dogs recover with basic care in two to three weeks, but serious complications and deaths can occur — most related to secondary pneumonia.
Owners are advised to keep their pets up to date on vaccines, take animals to a veterinarian if they are sick, and not to take their dogs to places where they will encounter other dogs if they are showing signs of illness.
Pet owners are also advised to discuss the canine influenza vaccine with their veterinarians, and decide whether vaccinating their dog for the virus is recommended.