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Stay up to date on canine influenza and heartworm protection

Does anyone really enjoy being administered a shot at the doctor’s office? While we might dread heading in for our yearly flu shot each year, certainly one prick must be better than catching this year’s version of the flu.

For your canine companion, that time of year is here for them. It is an interesting development for pet medicine, as dogs in the United States historically were not threatened by canine flu — not until it found its way to the Midwest in 2015.

What is Canine Influenza Virus?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in the dog world, strains of canine influenza — or CIV — have been limited to international pups — dogs in Asian countries, particularly Thailand, South Korea and China. CIV is thought to have developed directly out of avian and equine influenzas, strains H3N2 and H3N8, respectively.

In 2015, we started seeing the H3N2 variety crop up in parts of the Midwest, clustered in the Chicago area. The AVMA has determined that in the case of H3N8, the entire genome of the equine influenza strain evolved specifically for canine hosts, making it a particularly interesting virus from a medical standpoint.

The first U.S. detection of CIV H3N8 came in 2004, when it was found in racing greyhounds in Florida and nearby states. It has spread to more than 40 states.

The most prevalent strain in the Midwest, seen first in the Chicago area last year, is H3N2, a mutation of avian influenza.

How can we prevent CIV?

Just as our flu is not fatal to the majority of our young and healthy population, canine influenza will likely not threaten Fluffy’s life. But it might make Fluffy very uncomfortable.

According to Dr. James Frank, DVM at Lakeside Animal Hospital, “(Canine influenza) seems to present as a severe respiratory infection with dogs — coughing, running fevers, not eating or drinking and acting lethargic.” Many veterinarians are offering vaccinations for both strains.

So what can you do to keep Fluffy healthy?

Knowing the risk factors is one of the first steps to determining if a dog might be susceptible to CIV.

“If you have a high-risk dog, if you go to dog parks, groomers or if you go to doggie day care, you have better chances of picking it up,” Frank says. “What people should be aware of and weigh ahead of time is that should they pursue the vaccine, they don’t get protection until after they’ve received the second of two shots, which are spaced about a month apart.”

Once the initial influenza vaccinations are done, the immunization becomes a once yearly shot.

So far for 2016, cases of H3N2 are down significantly in our area compared to the level of cases seen in Chicago last year. This could be for a variety of reasons, including preventative vaccination by pet owners last year.

Heartworm season

While you’re at the vet looking into the CIV vaccination, remember it’s the time of year for dog owners to be diligent about heartworm testing and prevention.

Heartworms begin in a larvae stage, when they’re initially transmitted to a dog from a mosquito bite. As the adult worms form, they find their way to and set up shop in the dog’s lung and heart blood vessels, causing permanent damage and enormous discomfort. Affected dogs will tire easily, cough and show other signs of distress.

The two pieces of good news here: it is generally agreed that the heartworm risk season does not last all year and preventing the disease is as easy as remembering to pill your pup once per month. With heartworm, it is always better to be proactive with prevention than to try to treat the disease once it has taken hold.

Heartworm season generally lasts from March/April through November, which is the active and breeding season for mosquitoes. During this time, it is important for dogs to be on a monthly heartworm preventative.

Who is at risk?

Remember, both indoor and outdoor dogs should be tested and put on preventative medication, as even a dog who only goes outdoors occasionally is still considered at risk for the disease. Since mosquitoes do not limit themselves to the outdoors — they can and will find a way into homes — heartworm prevention is an important part of every dog’s yearly health profile.

How do monthly heartworm preventatives keep my dog safe?

You might not know that heartworm prevention works differently from a vaccination. When you give Fluffy his heartworm medication, it actually works to help him clear out any parasites that may have snuck into his system during the prior month. Stopping the heartworm larvae from maturing into adult heartworms is essential to keep heartworm disease out of your pup’s system.

“While canine influenza isn’t a deadly disease, heartworm is both deadly and sneaky. Remembering to give the medication is key,” says Frank. “Everyone has their own system at home to keep themselves on track. It is a very good drug when given correctly.”

What can I do?

Staying up to date on all of Fluffy’s vaccinations and check-ups will greatly reduce your chances of contracting anything this year. Your local veterinarians can answer your questions, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Also, look for brochures and information available at clinics and online for further reading.

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