The dog flu, or canine influenza H3N2 began as a 2015 outbreak in the Chicago area but has recently been making headlines again as new cases have sprung up all over the United States. But why are we talking about dog flu on a website about cats?
Well, because a report by the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, has confirmed that the same virus has now infected a group of cats.
In the report, Sandra Newbury, Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Shelter Medicine Program said,
“Suspicions of an outbreak in the cats were initially raised when a group of them displayed unusual signs of respiratory disease,” Newbury says. “While this first confirmed report of multiple cats testing positive for canine influenza in the U.S. shows the virus can affect cats, we hope that infections and illness in felines will continue to be quite rare.”
It appears now that the virus can replicate and spread from cat to cat, much in the same way the human flu is spread – through direct contact, through coughing and sneezing, through contact with contaminated objects and surfaces, etc. The flu is not contagious to humans.
The most common symptoms of H3N2 virus in both cats dogs are runny nose, cough, general malaise, lip smacking, excessive salivation, and fever, but not all animals will show symptoms.
In other words, your cat could appear to be perfectly healthy while carrying and infecting other cats with the virus. Likewise, your cat could be infected by a cat that appears healthy.
If you’re living in an area where H3N2 has been confirmed, keep your dogs on leash and away from other dogs, and do not let your cats come into contact with other animals. Avoid dog parks, kennels, and doggie day care centers where dogs are in close proximity to one another or sharing toys and play surfaces.
Currently, a canine flu vaccine does exist for dogs, but it’s effectiveness against the H3N2 virus is not yet proven. No vaccine currently exists for cats.
A test for the H3N2 virus has been developed and is available from a veterinarian. If your cat shows any signs of the flu or if you suspect he’s been exposed, talk to your veterinarian. Most cats recover at home without any complications. Some require hospitalization.
There is certainly still no reason to panic, but if your cat does develop symptoms consistent with the flu, a trip to the veterinarian is called for, particularly if the cat has been in a shelter setting or around flu-infected dogs.