“I do not want to underplay it nor do I want to overplay it,” said Dr. Eric Anderson of the Ballston Spa Veterinarian Clinic, pointing out that the virus is only deadly in approximately one percent of the cases. “It is a concern and if the virus is left untreated, it can develop into other diseases, such as pneumonia.”
He pointed out that for most dogs the virus is a mostly a nuisance illness but even so, the owner should take them to the vet as soon as possible.
“Eighty percent of the cases will exhibit mild symptoms and can resolve on its own,” said Dr. Anderson. “Others can develop into other diseases and if left untreated, the animal can have trouble [recovering.] It is best if they bring the [dog] in as soon as they begin to exhibit any symptoms.”
Symptoms include upper respiratory problems such as sneezing, coughing, or runny noses, as well as lethargy, fever and loss of appetite.
Canine influenza is a fairly new disease and has been commonly referred to as “dog flu.” First reported in 2004, it can be passed from one dog to another and is considered highly contagious. Areas with high density populations of dogs run a greater risk of the disease being transmitted, such as dog shelters, doggie day cares and groomers.
“It is not an epidemic. It started in Florida and has worked its way up the Eastern seaboard,” said Dr. Anderson. “We have seen some cases that don’t fit the [description] of kennel cough, but oftentimes [the dog] has quit shedding [the cells necessary to diagnose dog flu] by the time we see them so it is not easily diagnosed.”
Dr. Anderson said that a dog exposed to the virus is contagious within 72 hours, but that symptoms may not manifest for up to 10 days.
He advised people who use doggie daycares, visit dog parks or live in areas where their dogs may be exposed to other canines, to take advantage of the new vaccine for the virus.
“This is a new virus for dogs – their immune systems are naïve to it,” said Dr. Anderson. “The vaccine, much like the human vaccine for the flu, may not prevent the virus, but it will lessen the severity of it.”
Dan Butler, director of the Saratoga County Animal Shelter, said that while the shelter has not seen any cases of the dog flu, they still take precautions like they do for other contagious diseases such as parvovirus and rabies.
“Knock on wood, we have not seen anything,” said Butler. “But we can isolate a dog that has a cough or other symptoms. Not only do we have to protect the animals we have up for adoption, but lots of peoples’ pets end up here for one reason or another and we have to protect them as well.”
While the virus, which is thought to be related to the equine influenza, is not a danger to humans or other animals, there is a slight possibility a person could inadvertently transfer it to the canine in their family.
“I’d err on the side of caution,” said Dr. Anderson. “There is a possibility that if someone handled an infected dog and came home and handled their own dog, they could infect them.”
Dr. Anderson suggested dog owners do “a lot of hand washing” if they spend time around other canines. He also noted that dogs that are not exposed to other dogs are pretty safe from contracting the disease.
“Dogs not exposed to the virus should be okay,” he said.
But he cautioned, if your dog does begin to exhibit any signs of an upper respiratory infection, get them into the vet as soon as possible.
“Don’t wait. Once they start showing symptoms, get them seen right away,” said Dr. Anderson.