What animal shelters need to know right now about canine influenza

With the announcement by the Florida State Veterinarian of the first confirmed outbreak of canine influenza H3N2 (CIV H3N2) in the state, other confirmed cases this March in California, and last year’s outbreaks in Chicago and a number of other states, this highly contagious disease needs to be on the radar of all shelters and foster-based rescue groups that handle dogs.

“This is a virus that is highly contagious and easily transmitted within a population of dogs such as those housed in shelters,” said Dr. Cynda Crawford of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. “Most dogs have no immunity to it. Coughing dogs produce virus-containing mists that can travel 20 feet or more in the air, so the disease can spread in epidemic proportions. Most infected dogs have some symptoms, and some will go on to develop life-threatening pneumonia.”

While the Florida outbreak is associated with dogs who attended a regional dog show, Crawford pointed out that if the outbreak makes its way into shelters, it would severely impact lifesaving capacity. “Because dogs are contagious for up to four weeks, shelters would have to develop extended isolation procedures to prevent spreading the disease back out into the community,” she said. “It’s very hard for a shelter to house dogs in an isolation capacity for an entire month before they can move to a home or pet placement partner.”

That may sound daunting, but there’s good news, too. “Fortunately, CIV is a highly treatable infection that most dogs can recover from without complication,” said Crawford. “While the virus can survive in the environment — things like kennel surfaces, crates, food/water bowls, collars/ leashes, toys, beds, vehicles — or on people’s clothing and hands for up to 24 hours before it dies, it’s easily killed by most disinfectants, handwashing with soap and water, normal laundering of clothing and bedding, and washing food and water bowls and toys with soap and water.

“It is not a public health threat, or some very lethal disease that would trigger consideration of depopulation. There are strategies to manage CIV transmission within a shelter population with outcomes that save the dogs’ lives and get them placed into homes safely, without spreading disease in the community. We’ve used these strategies for years in shelters, and there is expertise available to help shelters formulate such strategies.

“Doing that will involve effective communication both internally and with the community at large, including veterinarians. Fortunately, this this type of communication and transparency usually engenders public support and understanding.”

Shelters can also take steps to stop a CIV outbreak before it starts. “Heightened awareness of the presence of CIV in your community or areas you acquire dogs from is key,” said Crawford. Her recommendations:

  • If possible, don’t admit coughing dogs
  • If you have to admit coughing dogs, isolate them immediately and test for CIV so you’ll know how to proceed
  • As people surrendering dogs if they have been coughing, or around other dogs who were coughing or ill, in the last two weeks. If so, ask them it’s possible for them to schedule a surrender appointment for two weeks later instead of immediately.

Crawford also urged foster-based rescue groups to be prepared to respond to CIV H3N2, as they could inadvertently bring an infected dog into their home and expose other dogs in the home to the virus. “But foster homes without other dogs can be a great resource for a sick dog, who will do better in a homelike environment as opposed to an institutional setting. Foster groups can play a major role in helping manage CIV in shelters, but they have to be aware of how to deal with the situation.”

Shelters and foster-based rescue groups who observe a greater-than-normal number of coughing dogs in their care can consult this document for more information, including how to contact the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF and other experts for assistance and advice.

Additional information can be found below:

Canine Influenza H3N2: Frequently Asked Questions

Management of Disease Outbreaks in Shelters

Collection of Swabs for Diagnosis of Respiratory Pathogens by PCR

Video: Collection of Swabs from Dogs and Cats for Respiratory Pathogen PCR Testing

FAQ for Veterinarians on Canine Influenza

Info for Pet Owners on Canine Influenza

Canine Respiratory Infections in Shelters