The American Veterinary Medical Association says canine influenza is spreading through the United States and Columbus veterinarian Hank Hall says owners should consider having their dogs vaccinated.
"More cases have been reported the last three years," said Hall of Northside Animal Hospital in Columbus.
The flu is a highly contagious infection caused by an influenza A subtype H3N8 virus first discovered in 2004.
Hall said a form of the virus originated in horses many years earlier and that the virus can cause "severe distress."
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In the mild form, the most common sign is a cough that persists for two to three weeks. However, some dogs can develop signs of severe pneumonia, such as a high grade fever and faster breathing. Other signs in infected dogs include nasal or ocular discharge, sneezing, fatigue and refusing food.
All dogs are susceptible to infection and the AVMA says virtually all dogs exposed to the virus become infected.
The virus can be fatal, but those instances are rare. Most dogs recover in two-three weeks.
Hall said dogs already a little weak are at greater risk.
It was in 2009 that the United States Department of Agriculture approved the first vaccine for H3N8 and trials have shown while it may not prevent the infection it can significantly reduce the duration of the illness including the incidence and severity of damage to the lungs. There is no vaccine yet for another strain of the virus H3N2.
The flu can be spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs, and by contact with contaminated inanimate objects such as water bowls, collars and leashes. On surfaces, the virus is alive and can infect dogs for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours and on hands for 12 hours.
Hall said there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted from dogs to humans, but people who have been around dogs may transfer the virus from what they are wearing to their pet.
According to the AVMA, there is no evidence of the virus being passed from dogs to cats, horses, etc.
Hall said the flu spreads in kennels, grooming salons and day care centers but is not suggesting people keep their dogs away from such places.
The AVMA suggests people who board their dogs at kennels should ask whether respiratory disease has been a problem there and whether the facility has a plan for isolating dogs that develop respiratory disease and for notifying owners if their dog has been exposed to dogs with respiratory disease.
The AVMA says dog owners whose dogs are coughing or exhibiting other signs of respiratory disease should not participate in activities or bring their dogs to facilities where other dogs can be exposed to them.
Treatment for the flu can involve an antibiotic or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. In some cases, intravenous fluids are needed to maintain hydration.
Hall said if a dog shows any signs of a respiratory illness, the owner should not hesitate to take their pet to a veterinarian. "Don't wait. Sick dogs need to be seen," he said.