K9 Flu and Communicable Disease – Tips from a Pro
by: Amy Bradley
Last week I had the chance to speak to Dr. Cynda Crawford, DVM PhD (link: http://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/about-us/meet-the-team/cynda-crawford-dvm-phd/ ) from the University of Florida. She is a specialist in Shelter Medicine and her PhD is in immunology and infectious disease. Outside of her numerous professional publications for the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Journal of Internal Medicine and similar, she has been published in major news outlets such as the New York Times. She also is involved in the Agility world, giving a real-world perspective to our discussion. The following is the result of that discussion.
- There are two different strains of K9 Flu. Different from Kennel Cough, but all present as a cough at first.
- K9Flu vaccine covers both types of K9 Flu, but not Kennel Cough – and vice versa. Confirm with your vet the vaccine they are using for K9Flu covers BOTH strains.
- Host can spread K9Flu once infected, but symptoms may not appear up to 4 days after infection.
- People can spread airborne virus on hands and clothes.
- Use hand sanitizer or wash hands if going from dog to dog.
Let’s get some of the geeky things out of the way. First, lets talk about what Kennel Cough is. Kennel Cough or Infectious Tracheobronchitis is not a single pathogen. It’s a shorthand of sorts for a variety of respiratory illness that present in a similar manner; most recognizably by coughing. K9 Flu is different and has two distinct strains. H3N8 has been in the United States since about 2004, and is currently active in Maryland. H3N2 arrived in 2015, and there have been reported cases in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Chicago, Minnesota, Arizona, and Texas. The Flu and Kennel Cough both present initially as a cough. At this point they begin to diverge. K9 Flu attacks the lungs and can cause pneumonia and death – even in young healthy dogs. Unlike run of the mill respiratory virus, there is no common inherent immunity. If a dog is exposed the rate of infection is between 80 and 100 percent. Like the human flu, the virus can travel through the air up to twenty feet, and live on dry surfaces such as hands and crates for 12-24 hours. This is not limited to the Eventing and Conformation population. Positives have been reported in the pet and shelter populations. Many nationwide testing labs have banded with Cornell University to track positive and negative Flu tests. The test is a cheek swab, not a blood draw. You can see the map here: https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/news/civchicago.cfm
So, what to do, or not do?
Whether traveling to help a neighbor rancher, or traveling to an event we all want to protect our dogs.
First, get your dog vaccinated. The vaccine is the single best defense against K9Influenza. Confirm the the vaccine version your vet uses will include both strains. I know we’re all a little jaded as the Kennel Cough vaccine can be ineffective. This is not the same thing. There are only two strains of K9Influenza, and both are in the vaccine. We are the only country to have two strains of K9 Influenza. Lucky us.
The rest is just like mom tried to teach you. Wash your hands. If you (dog) are not feeling good, don’t go anywhere and spread it around. Wash your hands (people). Limit interaction with people (dogs) that are coughing. Wash your hands (people). Disinfect hard surfaces with soap and water. Did I mention wash your hands? Use soap, sing the birthday song… or use hand sanitizer as a last resort. Also, please do not attempt to quarantine in your RV at the trial site. As mentioned, virus can live on your hands and clothes for 24 hours.
I was at trial as a spectator recently, and made a count of all the dogs I touched. I interacted with no less than six dogs. With an exposure to interaction rate of 80 – 100%, I was a disease vector (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vector_(epidemiology)). Now imagine each of those dogs went home and infected their pack – representing the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. At least three of those dogs interacts with dogs in public settings. Their four owners also interact with the public, and disease can be transmitted by hands and clothes.
Finally, educate yourself and ask questions. Ask your friends. Talk to event staff in the area to which you’re traveling. Do not, repeat, DO NOT fall for and randomly repost clickbait. If it looks sensationalist, it probably is. You will notice the title of this article isn’t The Disease Every Traveling Dog Should Be Afraid Of. That is on purpose.
Do not be afraid; just aware and reasonably cautious while still having fun with your dog.