Health & Medicine

Even dogs have their day with the flu

Sick dog facing camera on white background
Sick dog facing camera on white background

Just as schools send parents a cautionary text message when the flu hits especially hard, Steve Robinson decided earlier this winter to make sure dog parents were aware of the canine flu.

Hundreds of patrons of Uptown Hounds, Robinson's pet hotel and doggie day care in Lexington, received an email explaining that there have been recent signs of respiratory illness in Lexington and urging "all clients to be very cautious about where your dogs are taken during the next few weeks."

The dog flu, or the more fancy moniker canine influenza, is relatively new on the disease landscape, but most pups should fare just fine with a few precautions and a little care, said Michelle Jude, a veterinarian at Sheabel's in Lexington.

The flu first showed up in Florida Greyhounds in 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a mutated form of a virus that has been found in horses for more than 40 years. Although the canine flu currently can't be passed to humans, there is a remote chance that it could further mutate, so its growth has been monitored by the CDC.

While the death rate for canine influenza is very low, the secondary pneumonia can be life-threatening in some cases. There is no evidence that dogs of particular age or breed are more susceptible to developing pneumonia from canine influenza.

"It clears itself up within seven to 10 days, " said Jude, adding she sees several cases a week during flu season.

"It's just like if your kids go to day care and get a cold, it will go away."

A vaccine was approved in 2009, and its popularity is spreading.

Jude recommends that dogs get vaccinated, and Robinson requires his day care doggies and overnight canine guests to be vaccinated.

"I would be leery going around other dogs that aren't vaccinated."

To that end, owners with unvaccinated dogs may want to avoid places like pet stores, the dog park and dog competitions.

The American Kennel Club suggests owners who get a vaccine for kennel cough may want to consider a flu vaccine for their pet.

Madison Carey, development director for the Lexington Humane Society, said the dogs in that kennel have been given the flu vaccine for over a year and a half as part of a grant funded by the drug maker Merck. She said the vaccine seems to have effectively kept the virus at bay.

In the end, Robinson said, it might add some protection because prevention can be tough. Dogs will be dogs. When they greet one another, it's generally muzzle to muzzle.

"It's not like a dog is going to refuse to shake your hand" to avoid sharing the flu, Robinson said.