May 21, 2009
The recent emergence and spread of the Swine Flu virus, also
known as H1N1, has affected people throughout the world. From
school closings to cancelled vacations, the Swine Flu has caused a
lot of concern. These concerns have led many to take extended
precautions for themselves, their spouses and their children. But
what, if any, precautions should be taken for the furry members of
our families? The H1N1 strain may not affect our animals in the way
that it does humans, but similar type A flu viruses can affect our
In 2005, the first cases of the canine influenza virus were
reported in Florida and have since spread throughout the country.
The virus is a mutant of the H3N8 equine influenza virus and is a
contagious respiratory disease that may mirror signs of kennel
cough, including sneezing, coughing and fever.
"Nearly one-hundred percent of dogs that come in contact with
the virus become infected, regardless of age or vaccination history
because the virus is new to them," says Dr. Deb Zoran, an associate
professor and Chief of Small Animal Internal Medicine at Texas
A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences (CVM). "Of those infected, an estimated twenty percent of
dogs will show no signs of the disease."
"Of the eighty percent of dogs that exhibit clinical signs, the
majority will have only mild signs of respiratory illness,"
explains Zoran. "In most dogs, the clinical signs include a
low-grade fever, nasal discharge and a persistent cough that could
last up to three weeks. In dogs that develop severe signs of
illness, the clinical signs include a high fever, increased
respiratory rates with difficulty breathing and other indications
of viral pneumonia."
The testing results for the virus cannot be obtained quickly, as
the diagnosis of canine influenza is made by sending samples for
testing to a laboratory at Cornell University for PCR of the virus.
As a result, your veterinarian may suggest that your dog be
quarantined away from other dogs to prevent the possible spread of
this respiratory virus to other canines.
Fortunately, most cases can be treated with symptomatic or
supportive care, including fluid support, antiviral therapy,
bronchodilators and, if needed, oxygen. If you believe your pet has
contracted the virus, it is important to contact your
"As is the case in any viral infection, antibiotics are not
helpful unless the infection is so severe that secondary bacterial
pneumonia is suspected," notes Zoran. "Fortunately, treatment even
in the most severely affected dogs has been successful in about
ninety-five percent of cases. The key is early diagnosis and
treatment, so if your canine is showing signs of illness, such as a
decreased appetite, lethargy, fever or a cough, it is important to
contact your veterinarian for further evaluation. Your veterinarian
is best qualified to make a diagnosis and to provide advice for
caring for any dogs affected with the virus."
There is currently no vaccine for this virus and the disease
continues to affect dogs throughout the country. The best method of
protection is to keep your animal companion away from infected
Cat owners have fewer flu concerns, as felines appear not to be
susceptible to the class Type A flu viruses and do not develop
classic flu symptoms. Cats have their own versions of respiratory
viruses, but these viruses are not influenza viruses. However, the
same cannot be said for birds, which can be just as susceptible to
contracting influenza as our canine friends.
"Avian influenza is a contagious bird disease," says Dr. Sharman
Hoppes, an avian specialist at Texas A&M University College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "It is usually only
infectious to birds, but can occasionally infect pigs and people.
The disease is most common in waterfowl and is often an
asymptomatic infection in ducks."
Similar to the canine influenza virus, there are two levels of
severity observed in the avian flu.
"There are two main forms of disease: a low virulence form and a
high virulence form," explains Hoppes. "The low pathogenic form may
manifest as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production. The high
pathogenic form can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal signs
and sometimes lead to death."
While uncommon, it is possible for avian influenza to spread to
people. However, this usually occurs only if the individual is in
very close contact with an infected bird.
"If an individual is infected with avian influenza, he or she
can actually become quite sick and the disease can often progress
to pneumonia or death," cautions Hoppes. "Avian influenza is much
more serious when it crosses over to humans because most people do
not have immunity to the disease. Fortunately, avian flu has not
been transmitted from person to person like the swine flu. However,
one of the concerns of avian influenza is that it will mutate and
develop into a disease that could transmit from person to
At this time, it is highly unlikely that your pet bird will
contract avian influenza, but in the event that your
feathered-friend becomes sick, care is available.
"While unlikely that your pet parrot will develop avian
influenza, it could be possible if you have pet poultry or
waterfowl, as they are more likely to contract the disease," says
Hoppes. "If your pet bird does get sick, it is more likely to be
the low pathogenic form and supportive care is available. The best
way to prevent your bird from contracting avian influenza is to
minimize their contact with waterfowl and poultry."
Both the canine influenza virus and the avian influenza disease
can cause detrimental health problems in your pet, but knowing the
warning signs and taking proper precautions could save both you and
your companion the worries of influenza.
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