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Friday, 18 September 2009

Something is bugging our Havanese

My husband and I recently had swine flu. I have recovered, but my husband is still coughing. We sometimes give our leftover chicken or other protein to our Havanese and Golden Retriever after dinner. In the last 24 hours the Havanese has developed a very hoarse raspy cough, but otherwise is acting fine and is not running a temperature. Could she be getting the flu, too?
Diane K, by email

On the basis of my current understanding, the simple answer to your question is ‘no’, assuming your question to be ‘Could my Havanese have caught swine ‘flu from us?’
There are two types of influenza virus, named A and B. Type B affects humans whereas Type A viruses can also affect certain animals, although usually in a species-specific fashion. The virus involved in the current Swine ‘flu pandemic is thought to be the result of a pig influenza virus mixing with a human influenza virus to produce a new strain. Because this is a new strain, there is no immunity to the virus in the human population from having had a bout of ‘flu previously.
To date, there has only been human-to-human transmission of this swine ‘flu or H1N1 virus. It is generally recognized, however, that influenza viruses can readily change, hence all the worry when cases of avian ‘flu were first identified in humans. We have to hope that this virus retains all its current characteristics.
Type A influenza viruses can cause illness in dogs, and cats, but transmission to humans has not been identified. An outbreak of Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) occurred in Florida in 2004 and has affected dogs across several states in the US since then. A vaccine is now available in the US to limit the spread of this highly contagious virus which, fortunately, is rarely fatal. The illness it causes is quite similar to kennel cough here, and it is kennel cough which would head my list of possible explanations for your Havanese being ill.
Kennel cough is a coverall term for an infection characterized by a honking cough. The patient often brings up small pools of white froth. There are various causal agents, so although there are vaccines available against Bordetella bronchiseptica and parainfluenza virus they will be ineffective against other causes. A kennel cough infection is readily transmitted between dogs; an outbreak under kenneling conditions is classic if a dog is taken in who happens to be incubating it, hence the name kennel cough. Likewise, it can be picked up at dog club, dog shows, or meeting other dogs in the park, for example, so it could be said to be behaving like the common cold with a wide range of causative agents.
The patient may run a fever and therefore be under-the-weather, but more often than not he or she is otherwise well apart from this cough which can persist for one or two weeks. As vets, we do not prescribe antibiotics unless we suspect a secondary bacterial infection, and perhaps if the patient is frail or elderly. Cough suppressants and expectorants have a limited place in treatment because the cough is the body’s natural response to the effects of the virus.
Isolation is a priority and mainstay of treatment to limit the spread of the infection to other dogs. If you ring a veterinary practice to book an appointment for your dog to see a vet because of a cough, then it is likely you will be asked to leave your dog in the car. Only yesterday, I examined two dogs out in the car park with suspected kennel cough – great excuse for a breath of fresh air!
If your Havanese does indeed have kennel cough, then a more immediate likelihood is that your Golden Retriever will also develop the infection!
Alison Logan, vet

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