Veterinarian says flu season bites dogs, too

Aly Savala plays with her dog, Luna, at a Columbia dog park Friday afternoon. Veterinarians said some nearby states have faced outbreaks of canine influenza. (Garrett Bergquist/KRCG 13)

Dog owners on Friday said they were unaware dogs face an influenza virus of their own.

Aly Savala said she takes her dog, Luna, to the vet for monthly checkups. She said she wasn't aware dog flu existed.

"We've always taken our dogs to the vet to make sure that they're doing okay," she said.

Dr. Leah Cohn, a professor of veterinary internal medicine at the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine, said mid-Missouri hasn't had a problem with dog flu, but veterinarians have recorded large outbreaks in Illinois, Kentucky and California. Cohn said more than 300 dogs have been sickened in California within the past 45 days, which is unusual. She said the biggest risk for dog owners here is if their dogs come into contact with pets that have traveled through the affected areas. Dogs that spent a lot of time in boarding kennels or at dog parks were at the most risk.

Cohn said dog flu is caused by two viruses. Researchers first identified the H3N8 virus in 2004 and have since developed a vaccine for it. The second virus, called H3N2, is the culprit in this year's outbreaks. It was identified in 2015 and can also be prevented with a vaccine.

Persistent coughing is the most common symptom, though Cohn noted this can be a symptom of other ailments as well. Neither virus had ever been transmitted to humans.

Cohn said treating dog flu was much like treating flu in humans. Sick dogs should be given lots of rest and water. Your dog usually will recover fully, but Cohn said you should bring the dog to your vet if symptoms are severe.

"The idea is for the dog to recover at home where it's comfortable," she said.

Savala said she'll keep an eye out for flu symptoms in her dog. In the meantime, she said dog owners should make sure their pets eat a healthy diet and get their required vaccines.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the availability of certain vaccines.

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