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Fluff: Charlotte's Puppydemic
Guest author Dr. Rachel Rice answers your pet questions in our "Fluff" column
Each week in FLUFF, Dr. Rice answers questions about your floofy ones with expert detail. Send your pet questions to email@example.com
One of the humbling things about being a veterinarian is the moment when your cousin materializes at a family gathering to tell you they have taken Taco off of the diabetes kibble you prescribed him, and he will now be eating vegan cricket-based protein kibble.
I just wish they would have asked me first.
I am here to answer those questions that you want to ask, but don’t. I want to answer those questions. I need to answer those questions. For Taco (RIP).
Shall we begin?
COVID, Canine Influenza, and Kennel Cough – oh my!
Let’s get the old question out of the way: “Can my dog or cat get COVID?!”
Yes, but your pet probably doesn’t have it. There have been several case reports of cats and dogs that have tested positive for SARS-COVID-19 that have cohabitated with COVID-19 positive humans. We can give it to them, but it takes the perfect storm of genetic mutation, opportunity, and a susceptible host to make that happen. Chances are low. (But, COVID-19 is just one of tons of other coronaviruses, some of which are very common in cats. And before you go down that rabbit hole, no, your cat is not going to be the start of the next pandemic.)
Unless you recently moved from Kathmandu, you have probably heard about the current Canine Influenza outbreak. Let’s go over some basic information. There is definitely ‘something’ going around right now in the canine community. Just like COVID, it is highly contagious and knocks pups down with abandon. The data is slim to none, but veterinarians up and down the east coast are experiencing a huge spike in kennel cough infections with much shorter incubation periods, longer time to recovery (like, double), progression to pneumonia secondary, higher rates of hospitalization, and sometimes death. The Vet Nets (yes, we have networks) have reported a variety of positive tests: Influenza A (H3N2), Mycoplasma, Herpesvirus, and Bordetella. Cue the foreboding music, because here comes the medical jargon.
Canine Influenza Virus A (CIV) has two serovars: H3N2 and H3N8. The most common isolated in the US is H3N2. H3N8 tends to be more seasonal and big in China and Southeast Asia. Tends to be. Here’s the thing about medicine, folks. Nothing is ever 100%. There are always outliers. Now let’s talk about why you should care.
If your pet has recently been to a boarding facility, the groomer, doggie daycare, the dog park, or even walked on a sidewalk near other dogs, they may have been exposed. Even if your pet never gets groomed or doesn’t board, if they walk on the sidewalk they are at risk. This virus can be transmitted via aerosolized droplets from barking or panting, nose boops with other pups, and fomite transmission (germy sidewalks, shoes, clothing, etc). Dogs can begin to show clinical signs as early as 1-2 days after exposure.
Much like the ‘tickle test’ my kids have developed nightmares about, diagnosis relies on testing salivary and mucoid secretions from the respiratory tract. This one in particular collects secretions from the nasal passage, back of the throat, and the pink fleshy tissue in the lower part of your dog’s eye. Samples are then sent off for PCR testing. The tricky thing is that false negatives are common due to a combination of factors. Timing is key.
After 10 days, this flu doesn’t shed antigens consistently. In other words, the chances of an accurate test go down. In addition, the virus can begin to break down in the time it takes for the sample to reach the lab. Just as frustrating, false positives can also occur because the PCR tests the antigen rather than antibodies. This means that animals who have been vaccinated, exposed to, or actively infected can all test positive. It’s not as easy to diagnose as we would all like. Fever, cough, runny nose, and lethargy are all the most common clinical signs in CIV doggos. Treatment (much like COVID) relies on supportive care and monitoring for complications such as pneumonia, upper airway swelling, Acute Lung Injury, and development of chronic bronchitis. Not to mention the PCR test itself is expensive at around $200.
Once treatment is started, your pupper should slowly but steadily improve. If they are getting worse or if any new clinical signs develop, call your vet.
What can you do to avoid it in the first place? First and foremost, make sure your pupper is up to date on both their Bordetella and Canine Influenza immunizations. Skip doggie daycare. Try not to board your pet. Sound familiar? The parallels are endless (except for masks, don’t mask your dog). Wash your hands, and hold off on loving up on that new cute puppy down the street.
Your friendly neighborhood veterinarian,
Dr. Rachel Rice, DVM MPH
Dr. Rice currently lives in Charlotte with her wife and two children. The Rice family has one dog named George Lucas and a small hoard of felines (whose names the editor has decided to list: Marbles, Pizza, Moo Cow, Phteven, Cosmic Creepers, and Oscar). Rachel received her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Minnesota School of Veterinary Medicine and was also awarded her Masters in Public Health from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. She completed a small animal rotating internship at Carolina Veterinary Specialists and continued to work in emergency medicine for several years thereafter. She now works as a general practitioner.