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What are the Dangers of Mutating Pet Flu Viruses, and Does Your Pet Need a Flu Shot?

On October 20, Fox News reported that dog flu, also known as H3N8, or CIV for Canine Influenza Virus, could be added to the list of illnesses to think about if you’re a dog owner. CIV is reportedly a mutated form of Equine Influenza, or horse flu, and was first discovered about three years ago.

CIV is thought to be mild in most cases with a mortality rate from 1-5 percent. It has already been identified in 30 different states including Florida.

Vets warn it can be tough to identify because its symptoms mimic other canine illnesses like kennel cough. Altamonte Springs, FL veterinarian Dr. Roger Hart says the symptoms can include: runny nose, weepy eyes, cough, bronchitis and even pneumonia.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Canine influenza virus (CIV) is a new virus that has been recently identified as a part of the canine infectious respiratory disease complex, otherwise known as kennel cough.

“Kennel cough” is a collection of viruses that cause upper respiratory disease in dogs.

This new virus is causing a bit of a scare, similar to that of the human H1N1, swine flu virus. Hopefully, this information will put your worst fears at ease.

What is This New Canine Influenza?

All viruses are categorized by their surface protein, of which there are two: “H” and “N.”

The canine virus is categorized as H3N8. Interestingly, the H3N8 virus is also the categorization for the equine (horse) influenza virus, which has been in the US for over 40 years.

Epidemiologists knew dogs could acquire this virus from horses, but veterinarians also know the flu virus is very adaptable to change, which is what happened in this situation.

In this case, the equine virus mutated, and is now capable of being transmitted from dog to dog, without an equine host.

It’s worth noting that CIV has no correlation with any of the human viruses, including the avian flu, or the swine flu. There have been no documented cases of dogs acquiring the swine flu virus.

Contributing Factors that Promote Spreading of Canine Influenza

Two major factors have been identified that can contribute to animals breaking with this infection:

  1. Overcrowding, such as dog kennels, shelters, and racing facilities
  2. Stress, which suppresses your dog’s immune system

Racing greyhounds, for example, experience very stressful conditions, but there are many situations that can cause your dog to experience stress, and environmental factors such as toxins also play an important role.

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Influenza

The symptoms of CIV are quite similar to that of the human flu virus, including:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

The incubation period for the H3N8 virus is two to four days, at which point you’ll notice upper respiratory symptoms. The symptoms typically last for about 7 days, during which time your dog is infectious.

Naturally, you’ll want to avoid him mingling with other dogs during this time in order to not spread the infection.

If your dog’s symptoms are progressively getting worse, you’ll want to take your dog to a veterinarian – ideally a holistic veterinarian, who has access to a whole arsenal of natural treatments that can help. To find an integrative vet in your area, visit

Most dogs, however, will not need medical treatment.

The viral infection is temporary, and under normal circumstances your dog’s immune system will be quite capable of overcoming the virus naturally.

How to Boost Your Dog’s Immune System

Regardless of the type of infectious disease, there are strategies you can use to help bolster your dog’s natural defenses, including:

  • Feed your dog a balanced, raw food, species appropriate diet. Remember that a balanced diet needs to include adequate amounts of trace minerals, antioxidants and fatty acids
  • Reduce stress by reducing your dog’s environmental toxin load

These common sense strategies will help your dog's immune system remain strong and resilient.

While there is much talk about toxins wreaking havoc with human health, many forget that animals, both domestic and wild, are equally at risk from environmental poisons, which increases their toxic burden and creates biological stress.

To help reduce your pet’s environmental toxin load, make sure your dog has access to pure drinking water and optimal air quality. As you may already know, indoor air quality is typically far worse than outdoors, so you may want to invest in a good indoor air purifier, both for your own health as well as your pet’s.

You’ll also want to avoid as many chemicals as possible. This includes chemicals sprayed around your house, such as herbicides, pesticides and insecticides, as well as those applied directly to your pet, such as flea and tick medications.

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to limit the amount of vaccines you give to your dog.

Vaccines are metabolic stressors that can distract your pet’s immune system, and actually open them up to infectious

It’s important to realize that dogs do not require annual vaccinations. For more in-depth information about vaccinations, please see my previous article, When it Comes to Vaccinating Your Pet, Less is More.

What About the CIV Vaccine?

I recommend NOT vaccinating against CIV, since most house pets will not be in situations that warrant the use of the vaccine, such as in overcrowded boarding facilities, race tracks, or pet shelters.

Worse yet, some uneducated people are asking their vets to administer the CIV vaccine to prevent the human H1N1 flu, and some vets are more than willing to comply, taking advantage of their ignorance. However, these two strains are completely unrelated and one vaccine will not protect against the other. Remember, dogs do not acquire swine flu.

Remember, in the vast majority of cases, dogs recover uneventfully from their “dog flu” on their own. Only rarely is hospitalization needed -- usually only for very young puppies or immuno-suppressed animals, such as older, debilitated or immensely stressed animals.

If you have cause to believe that your dog has been exposed to the CIV virus, your veterinarian can do a PCR nasal swab, or take paired serum samples to confirm this diagnosis, but in the vast majority of cases you don’t need to do either, unless you can clearly see that your dog is unraveling from potential infection.

If your dog has been exposed I do recommend, however, considering the common sense strategies like adding turmeric, oregano, and fresh garlic to your dog’s diet, which all boost natural immune defenses. Discuss appropriate doses for your dog’s age and current immune status with your integrative veterinarian.

You can also use adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha, tulsi, bach flower essences, or essential oil of lavender, which can help limit the amount of immune suppression that might occur when your pet is exposed to intermittent stressors.

Your best bet is to help your dog develop a functional immune system through adequate diet and stress reduction.

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