AUSTIN (KXAN) — While respiratory illnesses in humans – such as COVID-19, RSV and influenza – are on the rise in Texas, experts are saying that Texans should not only look out for their human family members this season but also for their furry ones.
“We’re definitely seeing an outbreak of canine influenza in various parts of the state of Texas,” said Dr. Lori Teller, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
What is Canine Influenza?
Canine influenza is quite similar to the human flu. If a dog catches the illness, it will feel lethargic and may develop a fever, cough and runny nose. The dog’s appetite may also diminish while it is sick. Humans cannot get canine influenza and vice versa.
There is no proper treatment for a pup suffering from the flu. Though the symptoms are similar, Teller advised pet owners not to administer human medication to their animals.
“Some of those can be extremely harmful to our pets,” she said.
If you think your dog may be warm from a fever, Teller advised not to take your dog’s temperature.
“A lot of times, your dog may feel warmer than usual. Keep in mind that a dog’s normal body temperature is higher than a human’s body temperature,” Teller said. “If they feel super hot, then it is likely they have a fever, and your veterinarian can confirm that.”
Another respiratory infection a dog may get is Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex, commonly known as kennel cough. A dog may exhibit similar symptoms to the flu if it has kennel cough but will generally be more sluggish and have more severe ailments with the flu.
The current outbreak
The current Texas canine influenza outbreak has only lasted about a month, Teller explained. “(It has been) a pretty significant outbreak,” she said.
Canine flu spreads through tiny respiratory droplets, and the virus can live on a surface for up to two days.
“And we all know how dogs are about sniffing… so pretty easy for the disease to spread quickly.”
With the current outbreak, Teller said it is hard to know how or why it began. One explanation could be that people are traveling to different parts of the country along with their pups more often since the COVID-19 pandemic began. People could unknowingly be taking their sick dogs to a new area where another outbreak can launch.
If your dog gets it, should you be concerned?
Teller explained that only around 10% of canine influenza cases progress to pneumonia. In these cases, a dog might need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In even more extreme cases, the disease can be fatal. It is possible, but even less likely than the flu, for a dog with kennel cough to develop pneumonia.
Just like with humans, the very young and the very old are more likely to get severely sick. Also, dogs with other underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes, are at an elevated risk.
What can dog owners do to prevent their dogs from getting sick?
“I highly recommend if you are going to have your dog in a kennel situation, or even if your dog goes to doggy daycare regularly or goes to the dog park, (they) need to be vaccinated,” Teller said.
The canine influenza vaccine requires a series of two shots. There are two strains of the illness – H3N8 and H3N2 – and some vaccines will protect against both. With the holiday season quickly approaching, Teller recommended that in order to protect your dog and slow the rate of the outbreak, schedule a vaccination appointment as soon as possible.
“Whether your kennel requires it or not, I would,” she said. “Get that first one this week, if you can, and then you can get a booster in two weeks. After that, it’s once a year.”
The vaccine has been around for over a decade. Just like with flu shots, the vaccine doesn’t completely prevent the disease but makes it less severe.
Also similar to humans, Teller said she has come into contact with quite a few pet owners who are hesitant to vaccinate their dogs. She said this has only exacerbated in recent years.
“I ask people to look at the data look and at the science,” she said. When your dog is sick, “It really tears at you,” she said. “It is so much easier to prevent this disease and know that your dog is protected.”