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Pet Owner Alert: Canine Influenza Hits Massachusetts and RI

canine-influenzaPet owners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island need to be aware that canine influenza cases have been diagnosed recently in the area. This uncommon, yet very dangerous disease, has many pet owners worried and running to their local emergency veterinary hospital for vaccinations. Because canine influenza has not been a problem in the New England area before, it is highly likely that your Dartmouth veterinarian has not vaccinated your dogs for the flu. Unfortunately, this leaves the entire canine population in the local area vulnerable to the spread of this disease.

What is Canine Influenza?
Known in some circles as the “dog flu,” canine influenza actually started out as the equine influenza A H3N8 virus, which is also known as the “horse flu.” This virus has been around and has affected horses all over for well over 40 years. However, in 2004 reports began popping up of dogs that were contracting a strange respiratory illness. Veterinary investigations quickly showed that it was the equine influenza A H3N8 virus and that it had jumped species and adapted to infect canines. According to documentation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), very few dogs that become infected with this disease die from it. Some dogs have no symptoms at all and recover quickly, while others become very sick and can go into pneumonia.

Where Canine Influenza is Spread
Similar to how the flu works in human patients, pet owners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island need to be aware that the canine influenza spreads most often in social settings. The most common culprits include doggie daycare, dog parks, boarding kennels, obedience classes and people who bring their dogs to work, take them out to pet-friendly cafes and other public areas where other dogs are present. Canine influenza is spread by direct contact with the respiratory secretions in the air or on objects.

Other Ways Canine Influenza Can Spread
While canine influenza is not spread from dogs to people, humans can unwittingly transfer it from a sick dog to a healthy dog through contaminated dog toys, clothing or other objects that have come in contact with the sick dog. If you have a dog that is coughing or showing any other signs of respiratory distress, make sure you don’t take your dog into social settings where other dogs can be exposed. Contact your Dartmouth veterinarian at Anchor Animal Hospital right away.

Symptoms of Canine Influenza
The symptoms that are seen in canine influenza are very similar to human flu symptoms. These symptoms include coughing, runny nose, lack of energy and a fever. The symptoms can last for about two weeks or until the canine influenza virus runs its course. Because it is a virus, there is no medical treatment available to shorten the length of the illness, however your Dartmouth veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or other treatments to help with secondary bacterial infections that can sometimes be present with the flu.

How You Can Help
If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to canine influenza or is sick with the disease itself, make sure to consult your local emergency veterinary hospital for treatment and to prevent further spread of this illness. Wash your clothing, hands and any play toys that your sick pet may have come in contact with or played with before any healthy dogs use them. It can be difficult to separate dogs fully in a multiple dog household, but your Dartmouth veterinarian can give pet owners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island tips that will help you to prevent further exposure.

Prevention of Canine Influenza
A vaccination does exist to help prevent dogs from getting canine influenza. However, just like the human flu shot, not all dogs need it, according to studies conducted by top veterinarians. And, also similar to the human flu shot, the two-injection vaccine may not protect the dogs of pet owners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from all types of flu illnesses, but it can reduce the length and severity of the infections if they do get canine influenza. Before the recent cases in New England, the most recent dog flu outbreaks were in Colorado, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. At that time, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommended that social dogs receive the vaccination.

Should Your Dog Get the Canine Influenza Vaccination?
Speak with your trusted Dartmouth veterinarian at Anchor Animal Hospital to find out whether or not your dog should get the canine influenza vaccine. Pet owners need to be aware that unnecessary vaccinations can compromise your dog’s immune system, so it is important to not give vaccinations to dogs who are not at risk. This disease is very rare with only a few local emergency veterinary hospital clinics reporting patients with canine influenza. However, due to the outbreaks and the media attention to the disease, many local clinics are ordering vaccines to have available for pet owners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

If you think your dog may have been exposed to canine influenza, is showing any symptoms of the disease or is at risk for coming in contact with dogs who may have this illness, contact your Dartmouth veterinarian or bring your pet into your local emergency veterinary hospital. For questions about canine influenza, pet owners should contact Anchor Animal Hospital in Dartmouth at 508-996-3731.