Outbreaks of the disease, which causes symptoms quite similar to human influenza, have spread across the country over the past decade, hitting states like Florida, Louisiana and Minnesota as well as major cities including Chicago and San Francisco.
“We knew we probably had flu in Boise, but this is the first confirmation,” said Dawn Sessions, owner and senior veterinarian at Broadway Vet.
According to Sessions, a young male Doberman Pinscher was brought in last week with “ropey, runny snot.” Vets first worried that the dog’s vaccination for Bordetella, or kennel cough, had failed. But a DNA/RNA test of various cultures from the animal came back positive for H3N2, one of two strains of influenza found in dogs. And this test has no false positives, Sessions said.
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What Sessions finds concerning about the positive culture is the fact that the dog spends time at a local doggie daycare — and many of the canine daycare facilities in Boise don’t require flu vaccinations, she said.
“We’ve been promoting (the vaccine) for about 2 years now, just waiting for the outbreak to hit,” Sessions said.
Like humans, dogs who have the flu often exhibit coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Unlike the human flu vaccine, the vaccination for dogs is significantly more effective, Sessions said. That’s because it vaccinates against both H3N2 and H3N8, both strains of the disease known to affect dogs.
“There are no side effects, and they don’t get the flu from the vaccine,” Sessions said. “It’s very safe.”
The vaccine (which several Boise-area vets carry) requires a booster 3-4 weeks after the initial dose, and a yearly booster after that.
Sessions said even if your pet doesn’t frequent boarding kennels or doggie day cares, it’s still important to get the vaccination. The dog flu virus can survive on surfaces for up to 24 hours, meaning an unvaccinated animal could pick up the bug from a contaminated dog that visited the same park, walking path, grooming facility or other area.
“It’s hard to predict where it’s going to go,” Sessions said.
She warned that the flu can be fatal, even in young and otherwise healthy dogs. In other cities, Sessions said, day cares, kennels and even veterinary offices have had to close their doors to decontaminate.
“If the outbreak gets bad, we might not even let sick dogs inside,” Sessions said.
Instead, vets and veterinary technicians would likely test sick animals from their owners’ cars and keep animals that test positive for the flu in isolation to avoid spread of the disease. Dog influenza is highly contagious due to the fact that dogs have no natural immunity to the relatively new viruses.
The good news? The number of dogs that die from the disease may not be as dire as you’ve been led to believe. The disease is fatal in about 5 to 8 percent of animals that contract the flu, while the majority see only minor symptoms. The virus is communicable to cats, but not to humans.
Sessions urged pet owners in the Treasure Valley to ensure their dogs are vaccinated against the flu — and up-to-date on other important treatments and shots, too.