Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Health Care and Dog Flu

Americans have a love affair with dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, and dogs of all shapes, sizes, colors, and breeds. When was the last time you saw puppies for sale at a pet store and didn't want to take one home. They are so cuddly and cute, and they are bursting with boundless energy. Then there is the old faithful house pet that is your friend for life. People love dogs for a variety of reasons. Dogs are friendly, and they can be helpful to those who depend on them for companionship or assistance, like "seeing eye" dogs who assist the blind or handicapped. Guard dogs serve a purpose for protection, and dogs especially trained for "K-9" police work and drug detection are extremely valuable. Dogs can be taught to do tricks and, therefore, are entertaining. And, dogs can be a source of friendship to those who are lonely and in need.

However, dogs, like any pet, sometimes require a great degree of maintenance to keep them healthy. One issue that has become more prevalent within the last 5 years is canine influenza (H3N8 virus), or dog flu. And it is spreading. According to Discovery News, dogs often move in and out of shelter systems over long distances, such as via breed and rescue groups. Boarding kennels and even elite doggie day care centers can also result in cases, since, as for kennel cough spread, the virus is highly contagious and dogs may catch it from one another. Canine influenza virus was discovered in Florida in 2004, when University of Florida researchers sent to the virology center at Cornell's Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory fluid and tissue samples from greyhound race dogs that had died from a then mysterious respiratory illness at a Florida racetrack. determined the cause was the H3N8 equine flu virus, which jumped from horses to dogs. In addition to spreading from dog to dog, canines can also catch it from humans, who may have come into contact with infected animals. To date the illness has not yet sickened any people.

According to Discovery News, symptoms in dogs can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and a respiratory infection that may last a few weeks. One to five percent of victims die from related hemorrhagic pneumonia. Although 30 states have reported cases over the past five years, the outbreaks are sporadic and usually die out. The virus at present is more adapted to horses than to dogs, so wiping out the illness now would prevent future possible mutations within the canine population. Since dogs are in regular contact with their owners and other people, the illness could potentially spread from dogs to humans in the future, given that it has already jumped from one species of mammal to another. Recently, a vaccine was released for canine influenza. In clinical trials, it reduces viral shedding and diminishes signs of the illness. It's given in two doses, three weeks apart. According to CBS News, the pet medication is called a lifestyle vaccine. If you have a dog that's at home, stays in your yard and never comes in contact with other dogs, it probably doesn't need this vaccine. But if you travel, or go to kennels, this vaccine is for your dog. The mortality rate is about 5 percent. It's very similar to the human H1N1 in that generally it's mild, there's cough, nasal discharge, sometimes with a secondary bacterial infection, many recover from it except for those who go on to pneumonia.

According to PawNation.com, a study of 700 dogs showed no adverse side effects; but owners might worry that their dog might be the first of their breed to try it. Unfortunately, dogs most at risk of dying from dog flu -- the very old, very young and the frail -- are also those most at risk of getting sick from the vaccine. Some vets worry that dogs with pushed in noses, such as pugs and bulldogs, could fare worse because it's harder for them to breathe.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of dogs infected with this disease that die is very small. Some dogs have asymptomatic infections (no symptoms), while some have severe infections. Severe illness is characterized by the onset of pneumonia. Although this is a relatively new cause of disease in dogs and nearly all dogs are susceptible to infection, about 80% of dogs will have a mild form of disease. Canine influenza virus can be spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs, by contact with contaminated objects, and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Therefore, dog owners whose dogs are coughing or showing other signs of respiratory disease should not participate in activities or bring their dogs to facilities where other dogs can be exposed to the virus. Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease.

Testing to confirm canine influenza virus infection is available at veterinary diagnostic centers, according to the CDC. The tests can be performed using respiratory secretions collected at the time of disease onset or using two blood samples; the first collected while the animal is sick and the second 2 to 3 weeks later. Treatment largely consists of supportive care. This helps the dog mount an immune response. In the milder form of the disease, this care may include medication to make your dog more comfortable and fluids to ensure that your dog remains well-hydrated. Broad spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed by your veterinarian if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected. If your dog has a cough or other symptoms similar to flu, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so that they can evaluate your dog and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is not recommending vaccinating all dogs, according to USAToday. But dogs that receive the Bordetella vaccine, the association says, should be considered strong candidates for flu vaccination because they've been determined to be at risk for the much-less-serious kennel cough through regular contact with many dogs, and that puts them at higher risk for CIV. Unless your dog is regularly in close contact with other dogs, especially if you live in a "hot zone" where there's an outbreak or where there have been multiple past outbreaks — the vaccination probably isn't necessary. Dogs with weakened health or those traveling to hot zones are special cases that require discussion with a veterinarian.

According to the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists at AIP.org, here is how vaccines work:
There are three basic strains of the flu virus: A, B and C. A is the most common and most severe strain. The flu vaccine works by triggering the body's immune system response. The body recognizes the vaccine as a foreign invader and produces antibodies to it. However, flu strains differ from year to year, so different vaccines are needed each year. Flu vaccines are made by incubating the three strains of the virus expected to strike in a given year (they are injected into millions of chicken eggs to multiply), then extracted and packaged. It is a labor-intensive and time-consuming technique that is much the same as when it was first invented in the 18th century.

If your dog is exhibiting flu like symptoms, going to the vet is a safe bet. If the canine influenza is not the issue, perhaps your veterinarian may diagnose a different problem and recommend a course of action to get your pet back to health. It's always a great idea to keep your pets immunized against various types of medical concerns, and it never hurts to get your dog to the vet for regular checkups to keep it healthy. Although pet insurance can be very expensive, it pays to have some type of plan in place to help keep your expenses low. Discount plans are a great way to help save money with veterinarian services. You can get a membership and sign up through plan administrators like Careington who offers a nationwide stand alone pet program with Pet Assure.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.


TwinMed said...

Canine influenza is painful and many dogs meet the end with this one.A dog is as good or as much a member of the family...needs absolute maintenance and care.

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