Sean Hawkins

Canine influenza virus (dog flu) has been confirmed in six dogs in the Bay Area in the first days of the new year, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which monitors and reports on dog flu across the United States.

California is just one of several states reporting active cases of dog flu this year. Unlike the human flu, dog flu is not found everywhere in the U.S., rather, in intense geographically specific flare-ups.

Unlike human flu, canine influenza doesn’t follow a seasonal pattern; dogs can get sick and spread the virus year-round. Symptoms of canine and human flu are similar and can include a fever, cough, runny nose, reduced appetite and low energy.

Most dogs who get canine influenza recover in a few weeks. Some cases are severe with a higher fever and signs of pneumonia. Less than 10 percent of dogs that become sick with canine influenza die, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, but dogs that are very young, very old or have underlying health conditions are at increased risk.

Dog flu is a relatively new disease and can be caused by two different canine influenza virus strains, H3N8 and H3N2. Both strains of dog flu virus cause respiratory disease in dogs. One or both strains have been found in 46 states. Affected dogs may develop coughing, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. The signs of infection are similar to those of other respiratory diseases in dogs like kennel cough. With proper medical attention, most dogs will recover.

There is a vaccine available to protect against both known strains of dog flu. On Feb. 11, the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society is hosting two continuing education seminars for area veterinarians to learn more about canine influenza, the disease process and preventative vaccinations.

Dr. Robert Duquette, from Merck Animal Health, is conducting the workshops. Prior to joining Merck, Duquette was the head veterinarian at a large municipal shelter in California and is a past president of the Kern County Veterinary Medical Association. He is a topic expert in preventative care and shelter medicine.

Dog flu is highly contagious, so visiting places where dogs socialize or congregate, such as doggie day cares, dog parks, groomers, boarding facilities and dog shows place dogs at higher risk. Making the situation even more difficult to control is that dogs can spread the virus before obvious signs of illness appear.

The best way to protect your dog from dog flu is through vaccination. Fortunately, there is a vaccine now available for both dog flu strains. The initial vaccination requires two doses, given two to four weeks apart. Thereafter, an annual booster is recommended for continued protection. Contact your veterinarian to determine if your pet is at risk and what vaccination protocols are available to you for your dog.

Sean Hawkins is the executive director for the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society. Email him at shawkins@smvhs.org or call 713-269-3574.

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