Coughing, runny nose and fever are miserable, even when you have four paws and don’t mind drinking out of the toilet.
A dog flu outbreak in the Midwest has affected more than 1,000 dogs so far, and although this variety of flu hasn’t been seen in Louisiana, the news has prompted pet owners to call their veterinarians with questions about the illness and possible vaccinations.
Phillip Cancilleri, veterinarian with Helouin Veterinary Hospital, said they’ve been getting more calls and more requests for vaccinations lately in the wake of the news coming out of the Midwest.
“The Chicago outbreak has gotten a lot of air time,” Cancilleri said. “It’s definitely gotten everybody’s eye.”
Although most dogs have no immunity to the two relatively new flu viruses, the dogs most at risk are those that face exposure through dog day care, dog parks or being boarded while the owner travels, Cancilleri said.
The Baton Rouge Police Department’s police dogs got their vaccinations Friday morning because they have such high exposure possibilities not only across the city but because they also travel for competitions.
“They’re being proactive,” Cancilleri said about the Police Department.
Philip Waguespack, veterinarian with the Siegen Lane Animal Clinic, said he’s gotten quite a few calls from clients asking if the clinic has the vaccine. It does.
However, the vaccine isn’t mandatory, and Waguespack said he’s a bit conservative on its use.
“It’s not something I would highly recommend unless we see an outbreak in our area,” he said.
Susan Eddlestone, a veterinarian with Associated Veterinary Services, said the canine influenza vaccine doesn’t prevent a dog from getting sick, but it does help prevent the more-severe symptoms.
Another issue is that the current vaccination is for the type of flu virus that’s been in the U.S. for a few years, she said. The virus circulating in the Midwest is a different strain than the one from Asia making its first appearance in the U.S. It’s uncertain, she said, if the vaccine offers any protection against the newer strain.
The flu vaccine is not a “core vaccine,” Eddlestone said, so the decision on whether or not a dog receives it depends on the potential for exposure or on requirement, such as a kennel requiring dogs to be vaccinated before being boarded.
Both viruses are fairly new, with the first flu virus documented in greyhounds in Florida in 2004 and the newer virus documented first in South Korea in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The good news is that Asian canine flu virus doesn’t appear to be that harmful to dogs.
“The statistics for how well dogs do with it are pretty good,” Eddlestone said.
According to the CDC, while some infected dogs will show no symptoms, about 80 percent of those dogs infected will have a mild form of the disease. A small percentage of infected dogs die from the flu. Most recover in two or three weeks.
The virus is spread through contact with mucus from an infected dog or an infected item like a chew toy. Because both strains of the dog flu are new to the U.S., most dogs are susceptible to becoming infected.
Dealing with the canine flu and preventing its spread is similar to what is recommended with human flu: Keep dogs away from other dogs, remember that the virus can remain on surfaces and clothing for some time, and wash your hands after you’ve handled your pet.
Dogs that come down with either of the flu viruses could show symptoms like runny eyes, runny nose, fever and loss of appetite.
Pet owners who think their dogs may have the flu, Eddlestone said, should call the veterinarian before bringing them to the clinic so arrangements can be made to isolate the dogs from the other animals there.
“Don’t just walk in the front door,” she said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.