Written by Krista Vernaleken, VMD
Many dog owners have seen reports of Canine Influenza, or the dog flu, hitting Massachusetts and are wondering what, if anything, we should be doing to prevent this in our pet dogs. Don’t panic just yet, here’s what you should know:
Is it an Outbreak?
Not yet. First, it’s important to keep everything in perspective. There has been a grand total of one case diagnosed in the state of Massachusetts. There have been 5 confirmed cases in Connecticut. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware, take preventative action, or should blow this off as nothing significant. But it is not, as yet, an outbreak or an epidemic. There have been outbreaks in several parts of the country, and they all started with just a case or two.
How Contagious is it?
Influenza in dogs is just as contagious as in humans. It can be transmitted via airborne secretions or direct contact, so it doesn’t take much to contract it. With that being said, if your dog leads a sheltered life and doesn’t interact with any other dogs, including neighbor dogs, he or she is probably not at a high risk.
What Should I Look Out For?
If your dog or a dog that your dog has interacted with shows any of the following symptoms, contact your veterinarian or go to the nearest veterinary ER:
- persistent cough or sneezing
- nasal or eye discharge that progresses to thick mucus
- lethargy or reduced appetite
- respiratory difficulty or rapid breathing
Should I Vaccinate My Dog?
Owners may wish to consider vaccinating if their dog does interact with others – either casually, via neighborhood contact like walks or dog parks, or in larger social situations like kennels and daycare. It’s easy to imagine influenza spreading in these environments.
One person brings their dog to Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, or Chicago on vacation. They contract influenza but it takes some time to incubate. That dog comes back to the MA area, and goes to play at a dog park with your friend’s dog, then your friend’s dog comes to your house for your weekly playdate. So now your dog may be exposed to influenza before the first dog ever even showed signs of the disease.
There is a bivalent vaccine available for the two canine strains; if you think your dog may be at risk, talk to your veterinarian about getting your dog vaccinated.
Be aware, be safe, and use your best judgement. Happy fetching!