Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a subtype of the Influenza-A virus. The Influenza-A virus is the virus which causes influenza in birds. A specific subtype of this Influenza-A virus, named H5N1, is the virus which causes bird flu. The H5N1 virus has been known to infect large flocks of poultry birds in Europe, Asia, and Africa. This virus is also known to infect wild birds in these areas as well.
Symptoms that dogs may develop if they become infected with avian influenza are still not entirely clear. There have only been a few reports of dogs which have tested positive for avian influenza, but whether the symptoms they displayed were the result of their infection with the virus or some other medical issue is unknown. In a laboratory setting dogs have been purposely injected with the avian influenza virus, and while they tested positive for the virus afterward they did not develop any outward symptoms.
Symptoms of Avian Influenza in Dogs
There have been reports of dogs dying in high numbers in areas where large poultry flocks were infected with avian influenza, but again, it is unclear whether or not the dogs died from the actual virus or some other underlying cause. It should be noted that in these areas most of the dogs are already in very poor health and have a high incidence of disease.
One dog that died and later tested positive for the virus did develop symptoms which included a runny nose, wheezing, and a very high temperature. His health quickly declined in a matter of days and he died four days after his symptoms appeared. Again, whether or not these symptoms were due to an avian influenza infection or some other underlying medical issue is not known.
What is known is that dogs may become infected with avian influenza, that they can carry the virus without showing any symptoms at all, and that it may be possible for dogs to develop symptoms when they are infected with the virus. It is assumed that dogs with poor health are at a greater risk for being adversely affected by the virus.
Currently the only way to diagnose H5N1 in cats or dogs is through blood antibody tests, and examining samples from the nose, throat, and lungs, for evidence of the virus. There is no specified treatment for avian influenza in dogs and cats. If symptoms develop, supportive nursing care such as hydration, supplements, and keeping the animal warm and stable, are the only treatments available at this time.
Outlook for Dogs and Cats with Avian Influenza
The prognosis for cats and dogs with avian influenza is unknown. While cats have tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms at all, the virus may cause symptoms in a minority of those affected. Dogs may also be able to carry the virus without any symptoms, and a percentage of infected dogs may also develop symptoms.
Recent reports of avian influenza, or bird flu, that has spread to cats and dogs have been greatly exaggerated. To date there is only one confirmed reported case of the avian influenza occurring in a dog; this case occurred in the Republic of Azerbaijan, located in Eurasia, and the dog did not survive.
Treating Avian Influenza in Dogs
Many pet owners who share their environment with wild birds wonder if there is a treatment available if their dog comes into contact with a bird that carries the avian influenza. Currently there is no protocol treatment in place for dogs diagnosed with avian influenza, and there is no vaccine that will protect dogs from avian influenza either. In fact, tests for this strain of influenza cannot be conducted yet on live animals.
It is believed that if a dog does become infected with avian influenza, the route of the infection would be through the dog eating raw meat from a bird that was infected with the virus. Fortunately no wild or domestic birds in North America have been identified as carriers of avian influenza at this date.
A Dog's Risk to Bird Flu is Remote
The debate over possible avian influenza infection in dogs continues. At this point it is still not known if exposure to avian influenza would routinely result in infected dogs; there is some additional speculation as to whether it is possible for dogs to have a natural immunity to this virus because they are often immune to many strains of influenza.
Until more is known about this disease in dogs it is difficult to say whether treatment would be possible or not; it is not even known how the disease would affect dogs or what the symptoms may be. To date, the possibility of avian influenza occurring in dogs on a large scale is considered to be highly unlikely.