Region veterinarians tout vaccine to protect dogs against canine flu

Dr. Norman Brooker at  the Hobart Animal Clinic points out that canine flu, like the human variety, is most dangerous in very young or very old dogs and those that are immuno-suppressed.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Does Fido have the sniffles and a runny nose? Is he running a fever and low on energy?

If so, your pet may have canine influenza virus, a respiratory illness easily contracted in a variety of ways. At its most dangerous, it can lead to pneumonia and death.

"Canine influenza virus, or the dog flu as it is commonly known, is a serious and highly contagious disease that is easily spread from dog to dog,” says Dr. Lisa Polazzi, an emergency room veterinarian at North Central Veterinary Emergency Center, with offices in Highland and Westville. “It can also be spread by shared objects such as water bowls. Dogs can be contagious even if they do not show any symptoms.”

According to Dr. Norman Brooker, a veterinarian at Hobart Animal Clinic, flu in dogs is similar to the human variety. It’s a respiratory disease that should not be mistaken for kennel cough, though dogs who contract it have a cough that can last up to three weeks.

“It’s important to be vigilant as the virus is out there,” he says, adding that shelters and veterinarian communities are always on the lookout for it.

Indeed, according to Denise Derrer, public information and media relations director for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, while canine influenza isn’t as common in Northwest Indiana as other parts of the state, like the southeastern region, it’s smart to be aware of the symptoms.

"The dog flu is similar to the people flu,” she says, noting that people can’t catch dog flu.

Not all dogs that get the flu will show symptoms. Some 20 percent will be infected but show few, if any, of the typical symptoms. That's why owners should consider vaccinating high-risk pets, especially as the relatively new virus spreads around the country from larger cities.

“There are two strains of canine influenza virus,” Polazzi says. “Fortunately, there is now one vaccine that can protect dogs from both strains of the virus. The vaccine reduces the risk of dogs getting the flu. It also decreases the severity of the illness if they get sick.”

Social dogs are usually at higher risk for getting the flu, but even pooches that aren’t hanging out with other dogs can be in danger.

“It can be spread through the air, on contaminated items such as water bowls and toys, via direct dog-to-dog contact, and on soft, porous surfaces like clothing, shoes, and carpets,” Polazzi says. “It is most commonly transmitted in spaces shared by multiple dogs, such as doggie beaches, parks and daycare facilities, doga classes, boarding kennels, pet stores and grooming salons. Even the most sheltered pet can come into some type of contact — it can also be spread from the clothing of someone who has an infected dog even if that dog isn’t around."

Polazzi recommends that social dogs receive the canine influenza virus vaccine.

“The vaccination is actually two injections that are given three to four weeks apart,” she says. “So it’s best to plan ahead to have your dog protected against the canine influenza virus.”

Brooker agrees. “Better to do that instead of waiting until it hits,” he says.

Like human flu, dog flu is most dangerous in very young or very old dogs, says Brooker, as well as dogs who are immuno-suppressed. Those are the most vulnerable to developing pneumonia. Healthy dogs will typically recover in the same way as people who get the flu.

“Dogs with the canine influenza virus typically have a cough,” says Polazzi. “Dog owners should seek immediate veterinary medical attention for their pet if it exhibits any of the following symptoms — a cough that lasts more than a few days, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and discharge from the eyes or nose.”

Dog owners who want to get their dog vaccinated should contact their veterinarian.

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