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Pet owners warned of uptick in dog flu cases

Vets have noted a rise in cases of the highly contagious canine sickness. Here’s what you need to know to protect your pup.

As many states are experiencing a very active flu season right now, another form of influenza is also making its rounds across the country, but this one is targeting your four-legged friends.

Like human flu, dog flu is highly contagious — and can be deadly in some cases. As of last week, veterinarians in at least 46 states, including Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida and California, have treated dogs that were infected with the virus, Fox News initially reported.

“Canine influenza is very similar to the human form in that it is self-limiting and not life-threatening,” said Dr. Robin Brennen, senior medical director at Animal Care Centers of New York City. “Influenza can be fatal, but mortality is less than 5 percent.”

Dog flu symptoms to watch out for

The symptoms of dog flu are often akin to those related to "kennel cough": coughing, sneezing, fever, nasal and eye discharge, a decrease in appetite and general mood changes, but some of the milder symptoms can turn into pneumonia, Brennen said.

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“Prolonged coughing fits, difficulty breathing, lethargy and inappetence should be more causes for concern,” she added. “Suspicions should be raised if a large population of dogs gets sick at the same time, as influenza has about an 80 percent infection rate. This is because it is a relatively new disease, and natural immunity has not occurred."

There are two strains of dog flu, H2N8 and H3N2. The former was first found in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004, and the strain is believed to have come from a horse flu strain, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

The latter strain was first identified in the U.S. in 2015 after respiratory illness was detected in Chicago. It likely stemmed from a direct transfer from avian flu in Asia, where it was first discovered in dogs nearly 10 years before, the AVMF said.

“Canine influenza is transmitted through droplets or aerosols containing respiratory secretions from coughing, barking and sneezing,” the AVMA said.

It can be spread via kennels, shelters, dog parks, doggie daycares, dog shows, food and water bowls and collars and leashes. While it cannot be transmitted to humans, dog flu can be transmitted from them — and remain viable, or live and infectious, on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothes for 24 hours and on hands for 12 hours.

If your dog is showing any of the above symptoms of canine influenza or is just not acting like their usual self, seek veterinary care.

How to treat dog flu

Just like with people, dog flu treatment is often supportive, Brennen said, and “you want to treat the symptoms the dog has and maintain hydration and nutrition.”

There is a two-dose vaccine that will treat both H3N8 and H3N2 strains, but “immunity is not at its peak until two-plus weeks after the second booster,” Brennen said.

While it can reduce your pup’s risk of contracting dog flu and reduce its severity and duration, vaccination may not prevent infection altogether, she warned.

As in their human counterparts, dogs who get the flu vaccination may experience pain at the injection site, facial swelling, mild fever or an allergic reaction.

My dog has canine influenza. Now what?

According to the AVMA, infected dogs should be isolated for at least four weeks, preferably in “an area with a separate air supply,” and treatment should be designated by your vet. The dog flu virus seems to be easily killed by common disinfectants found in homes and most pet facilities, the organization added.

Anyone who comes in contact with a dog infected with canine influenza should frequently wash their hands, especially before and after handling or cleaning, and if able, protective attire should be worn to prevent the virus from spreading to clothes.