According to the state’s top veterinarian, the strains of canine influenza being reported around the country have not been seen in Maine this year.
So far, the H3N2 virus — first detected in the US in 2015 in Chicago — has been reported in California, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan within the last 45 days but not in numbers high enough to be considered a “widespread outbreak,” according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which tracks cases of dog flu in the US.
In all, just over 100 dogs tested positive for the virus among those four states.
“We don’t have any reported cases here in Maine,” Dr. Michelle Walsh, state veterinarian with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said. “But anyone who is concerned about the virus should have a conversation with their veterinarian.”
Canine influenza is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by specific Type A influenza viruses known to infect dogs. Two different influenza A dog flu viruses have been identified, the H3N8 virus and the H3N2 virus.
Signs of canine flu include coughing, a runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and a reduced appetite.
No human infections with canine influenza have ever been reported.
There is a vaccine for the dog flu, but Walsh said it is important to remember that, like the human flu vaccine, it is created for a specific strain and may not be completely effective against the current strains.
“These commercial vaccines are available,” Walsh said. “But unlike the human [influenza] vaccines, which can provide cross protection even if not an exact match for the current virus strain, the canine vaccines will not likely provide that cross protection.”
That is a major medical difference between human and canine flu vaccines, Walsh said.
The best thing for any concerned dog owner to do, she said, is to talk to their veterinarian.
“Talk to them about your pet’s lifestyle,” Walsh said. “If your dog is a couch potato that never leaves the house, the risk of exposure is not likely, and your veterinarian can tell you if the dog should have the vaccine in their arsenal of protection.”
The virus is spread among dogs through direct contact between healthy and infected dogs who pass it along by sneezing or coughing. It can also be transmitted on objects that have come into contact with infected dogs.
“With more global movement of dogs and increased mobility of rescue dogs, we may keep seeing new strains introduced,” Walsh said.
People who work with rescue dogs are taking great pains to take steps preventing the spread of any infections canine diseases.
“People get very passionate about rescuing animals from out of state,” Stacey Coventry, director of development and public relations at the Bangor Humane Society, said. “They will see something on social media and want to jump in and rescue that animal.”
While there is nothing wrong with rescuing a dog from away, Coventry said it is important to take due diligence when it comes to that animal’s health and consider how it could impact dogs already in Maine.
“There are strict rules of transport we have to follow,” she said. “Beyond the flu, we want to make sure we don’t bring in other things like heartworm [because] we want to be sure to protect our own community’s animal health.”
Any new animals coming into the Bangor Humane Society are carefully examined for any potential health issues by an on-staff veterinary technician and quarantined before they are eligible for adoption.
“We love transports that help dogs, but let’s do it in a well educated way to make sure it is done in as healthy as manner as possible,” Coventry said.
All dogs are susceptible to the flu, but Walsh said puppies and any dogs already ill or highly stressed can be at an increased risk for the virus.
The most recent report of dog flu in Maine was in the 2015-2016 flu season in which one dog tested positive for the virus.
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