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Dangerous dog flu has U.S. pet owners worried

Anna is a lifestyle writer who spends way too much time with her two dogs. When she is not writing, she is probably gardening, reading, tripping over dog toys, or trying to acquire more farm animals than she really needs.

What you need to know to protect your pup from the dog flu outbreak

Flu season affects animals as well as people. The recent dog flu outbreaks on the West Coast have many pet owners worried. Here is what you need to know about the H3N2 dog flu virus.

H3N2 dog flu outbreak affected thousands of dogs in 2015

The H3N2 virus first appeared in Chicago last spring. Since then, the virus spread quickly across at least 24 states, raising concern among veterinarians and pet owners. Thousands of dogs across the U.S. have tested positive for the new strain of dog flu, H3N2, since the outbreak first started in March of 2015, according to the AVMA. This strain of the dog flu virus is new to the U.S., which means our dogs don't have the natural antibodies they need to fight off the infection.

New dog flu is serious, but not deadly

H3N2 mostly causes mild, non-life-threatening symptoms. It has a very low fatality rate and most dogs recover in 2-3 weeks with veterinary care. However, the dog flu is very dangerous for young puppies, older dogs and dogs with weakened immune systems, because they are susceptible to secondary infections like pneumonia.

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Dog flu symptoms to look out for

Dog flu symptoms are remarkably similar to some of those associated with human flu strains. Here are the H3N2 symptoms you need to be aware of:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Fever
  • Pneumonia (in severe cases)

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If your dog shows any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately to set up an appointment, and remember to avoid bringing your dog to public places like dog parks, kennels and dog day care centers.

How the dog flu virus spreads

Recent outbreaks in the Seattle area are believed to have originated from a Seattle kennel. The respiratory virus is airborne, which means that most infections are spread from contact with other dogs through sneezing or from contaminated surfaces like toys and water bowls. Places where dogs come into contact with other dogs, like kennels, dog parks, dog shows and day care centers pose exposure risks.

That does not necessarily mean you should pull your healthy dog out of day care until the outbreak blows over, but you do need to be aware of the health risks. Talk to your veterinarian about reported cases in your area and ask your boarding facility or doggy day care if they have any concerns. It might be a good idea to keep young puppies, senior dogs and otherwise immune compromised pets out of public places like dog parks in areas with known cases of H3N2.

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Treating the dog flu virus

Since dog flu is a virus, treatment is supportive. Your veterinarian might prescribe an antibiotic to treat any secondary infections associated with the virus or a medication to reduce your pet's fever. Dehydrated pets might need fluid therapy, and in severe cases, vets might even recommend hospitalization.

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A vaccine recently released in November shows promise in fighting the new strain of dog flu. Talk to your vet about vaccination options if you plan on traveling with your pet or if your pet spends time in at-risk locations. Remember that keeping your pet healthy with proper nutrition, exercise and regular visits to the veterinarian are the best ways to help your pet fight off infections like the H3N2 dog flu.

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