Diseases and parasites: Are dogs susceptible to bird flu?

April 13, 2012

Two street dogs died after eating dead chicken from a poultry farm in India… Azeri dog died from bird flu virus… Suspected bird flu outbreak leaves 4 dogs and about 100 chickens dead in Ivory Coast… Significant numbers of dogs in Thailand carry the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus. These headlines have caused a lot of dog owners to be apprehensive. Given the fact that dogs are highly valued pets, any dog owner would fear for the health of the pet. What is bird flu? Are dogs really susceptible to this disease?

Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu is an illness that is caused by any strain of the influenza virus that has adapted to a specific host. As the name suggests, the virus has adapted to birds. Bird flu is a highly transmissible disease of birds. This virus has a wide range of symptoms. While some species of wild birds can carry the virus without getting sick, other birds and poultry would get ill when infected. Infected poultry would show either of the two forms of the disease. A low pathogenic form would cause a drop in egg production and have an effect on the physical appearance of the ducks, chicken or turkeys. The high pathogenic for would have more serious effects as severe illness can cause the death of the birds or the poultry within 48 hours. The H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus causes the highly pathogenic form of the disease. Humans are particularly concerned with the H5N1 strain of the virus as it can be passed by infected poultry to humans and cause serious diseases that can result to death.

Dogs are not really susceptible to bird flu but incidence of infection was not ruled out. In 2003, it was documented that the H5N1 strain of the virus has infected carnivore species. The virus is transmitted through the saliva, nasal discharge and drippings of an infected bird. This particular bird flu strain has infected tigers, cats, leopards and stone martens. This fact has raised a concern among dog owners that dogs can also be infected. Affected carnivores are believed to have become infected by feeding on raw poultry and wild birds. Dogs are carnivores too and these animals can become infected by eating birds and poultry that carries the H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus. Because the infection can be transmitted by getting in contact with the droppings, a dog that is not allowed to roam and does not have the opportunity to feed in raw bird and poultry can still get infected. The ground, water and grasses can be contaminated by the droppings of an infected bird. Dogs not only love to play in grasses. These animals love to munch grasses too. Dogs love to dig and to wallow in puddles. The virus can be picked up by the dog from these places too.

A stray dog in Azerbaiijan was reported to have died from the H5N1 virus but no information how the infection occurred is available. The bird flu virus is already circulating in Asia, Africa and Europe. The H5N1 strain of the virus has not yet entered United States. But as migratory birds carry the virus and the risk of catching the virus cannot be totally eliminated. Owners may be able to prevent the dog from getting in contact with infected birds but since bird droppings can also spread the disease it would be necessary to take note of the symptoms so that dogs will given necessary treatment. If the dog has nasal discharge and shows breathing problems, it would be best to consult a veterinarian.

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