Dog owners be aware: there's a new outbreak of canine flu slowly spreading towards our area. We were last hit with the H3N2 canine influenza in the summer of 2015, and many dogs were sickened with severe breathing problems.
What it does:
Flu can cause a lengthy illness that can vary from mild coughing and sneezing to full blown pneumonia requiring hospitalization and oxygen therapy. Most dogs initially get very lethargic with little appetite, then the coughing and sneezing show up a day or two later.
How it spreads:
The virus is highly contagious dog-to-dog, and cats are susceptible as well. We can accidentally bring the virus home to our pets through our hands, clothing, and shoes. Dogs can shed the virus for several days BEFORE they show any signs of illness, so it's impossible for even the most responsible owners to prevent contact. Once the dog becomes ill, they will shed the virus intermittently for the next 3-4 weeks and are contagious during that time.
How to protect your pet:
The good news - there is a new vaccine available to protect your pooch. 2 summers ago we had to use the older vaccine (against a different strain of the flu) and hope for some cross-protection, but not anymore. Ask your vet if your dog has received the H3N2 flu vaccine (or better yet, the bivalent vaccine that gets both strains). Your pet needs 2 immunizations 2-4 weeks apart for first-time protection, then a yearly booster.
Aside from vaccination, decrease contact with other dogs or areas where flu has been found. This may mean avoiding dog parks during an outbreak.
What to do if your pet is ill:
If your pet shows signs of respiratory disease or is sluggish with decreased appetite, give us a call. Mild cases only require supportive care at home, but severely affected dogs can need to be hospitalized. Keep your pet away from all other animals for 4 weeks to limit the spread of the flu, and decrease activity to give those lungs a rest during the recovery period. Expect the coughing to last several weeks, though it should improve steadily after the first 3-5 days. If at any point your pet's breathing is labored or they are taking more than 40 breaths per minute at rest, seek veterinary care without delay.