Bird flu, swine flu, MRSA, the Zombie apocalypse... in this internet age, we are constantly bombarded with warnings of the biological downfall of civilization. But if you’re like me, I never take the panic to heart, however real the threat may or may not be. (If I catch the flu, it’s nothing some OJ, chicken soup, and Aleve can’t fix, right mom?)
But a virus that could attack my beloved furry soul mate Pumpkin the dog? Now that’s
serious business! So as the canine flu outbreak in the Midwest
reaches “near epidemic levels,” here’s what you need to know to keep your four-legged buddies safe in Chicago-land and beyond.
WHAT IS DOG FLU?
Dog flu, (AKA canine influenza H3N8) is a virus originally found in horses that attacks the respiratory system. Our equine buds have over 40 years experience battling the bug, but it didn't reach the pup population until 2004. We don't know exactly how the virus spread, but we'll just say: safety first, friends... and leave it at that.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF DOG FLU?
Although there are tell-tail signs your dog might be ill (including coughing, sneezing, fever, nasal discharge, lethargy, and lack of appetite) veterinarian Terry Medinger of the VCA Aurora Animal Hospital says symptoms aren't always obvious after exposure. Your pup might not exhibit obvious symptoms for up to 10 days, but that doesn't mean he or she isn't contagious.
HOW SERIOUS IS THIS BUG?
In Cook County, Illinois more than 1,000 cases had been confirmed in the past five months and although most of those are mild, about 5 percent of cases can be fatal. The Chicago area is currently most at risk, but since being discovered in 2004, the virus has appeared in 40 states nationwide. Says seasoned medical care-giver Medinger:
"I have been in practice for 25 years and have never seen this kind of outbreak."
HOW IS IT SPREAD?
Just like human flu, dog flu is spread through close contact in highly populated areas. Sneezes, coughs, and shared toys can all be to blame, and not even boop kisses are safe!
HOW IS THE VIRUS BEING CONTROLLED?
At paw-verbial Ground Zero in the Windy City, officials are taking extreme measures to control the outbreak. Veterinarians urge pup parents to keep their dogs out of parks, kennels, doggy hotels, groomers, and even high-traffic vet offices- the Aurora hospital is utilizing a separate entrance for suspected sick pups. And to the great disappointment of egg-hunting hounds, the Chicago Park District cancelled its annual doggy Easter Egg Hunt.
HOW CAN YOU KEEP YOUR PUP SAFE?
Keep furry friends away from busy dog hangouts, including parks, hotels, groomers, and pet stores. Wash your hands and change your clothes after petting other dogs to reduce potential exposure. And when in doubt, seek veterinary care!
A canine flu also shot exists. The two-shot vaccination doesn't necessarily deflect the virus in its entirety, but may reduce its its length and severity. (It's administered three weeks apart with a booster shot needed every year for full protection.)
David Gonsky, medical director at West Loop Veterinary Care, emphasizes that while pet owners should exercise caution, they shouldn’t panic.
“Our clients are getting very scared. There have been hundreds of these infected dogs seen at area veterinary hospitals and the number who have gotten pneumonia is small. The number who have died is very small.”
Want to take your pup's health into your own paws? Check out our post How to Know If Your Dog Is Healthy
Here's a handy infographic to help you figure out if you're pup might be showing symptoms of the flu:
h/t to Chicago Tribune
Featured image via genengnews.com