While peak flu season for humans is thankfully over after a particularly infectious winter, there is no end for dog flu, which has seen nearly 500 cases of the highly transmissible, airborne virus across the country this year.
“I didn’t see any cases in New York City this year, but there have been about 490 confirmed cases, mostly out west in California and Chicago,” said Dr. Yasmine Mortsakis, founder of New York Veterinary Practice. “We think about it spreading because it does have a seasonality in the sense that dogs will be more social because it’s not freezing out finally.”
As the weather warms, New York dog owners will be heading to their favorite dog park or other city green spaces, where they will likely interact with other dogs more frequently. Dogs who go to doggie daycare are also more susceptible to the virus.
“We get concerned that we’ll see outbreaks, particularly as people travel with their pets,” Mortsakis said. “Your dog travels with you on an airplane, goes wherever you go. Just because it’s out west, we think it’s just a matter of time before someone jumps on a plane, and it’s here.”
To make sure your pup is safe in the event of dog flu stretching across the nation, Mortsakis suggests getting your dog vaccinated against both strains that have been detected or making sure you're up to date on their shots.
“It’s highly contagious and respiratory-based, and dogs don’t have a natural immunity to it because it’s a fairly new virus,” she added. “Most dogs that come in contact with it are going to get sick. If left untreated or in severe cases, it can result in pneumonia or death, so it is something to be concerned about.”
Symptoms include high fever, loss of appetite, runny noses, sneezing and coughing. Dogs who have the flu can spread it via communal water bowls or toys at dog parks or even their human, who can spread it to other dogs they come in contact with, though it is not transmissible to humans.
“There are so many ways to catch it in the city because we have such a dense population of dogs and humans — that’s why it’s so important to be vaccinated because the more dogs who are, the safer the environment is for our dog population,” Mortsakis said.
While you certainly can’t put your pooch in a plastic bubble before heading outside, some things you can do to keep your dog healthy is avoiding dogs that show the symptoms mentioned above, wiping your dog’s paws when you come home and bringing your own water bowl to the dog park.
Mortsakis, who last saw confirmed dog flu cases in the city about four years ago, just wants New Yorkers to be aware that “it’s around. It’s a thing. We’ve just been fortunate so far it hasn’t hit here — yet.”
Visit dogflu.com for more info.