Dog Flu Outbreak: How Do I Know If My Dog Has It?

News of the dog flu outbreak in Chicago has dog owners across the country asking the same questions: How do I know if my dog has it, and how can I protect my furry friend?

The current dog flu outbreak in Chicago has seen more than 1,000 cases of the virus with at least five dog fatalities, according to CBS News. Dr. Jerry Klein, the supervising veterinarian at the Chicago Veterinary Emergency Center told CBS station WBBM-TV in Chicago that the current outbreak is the worst he’s ever seen.

“I’ve been here for 35 years, it’s probably the worst type of outbreak I’ve ever experienced.”

Unfortunately, victims of the dog flu outbreak can be difficult to diagnose, as the virus has symptoms similar to other dog illnesses. For example, dogs infected with the flu often are lethargic and have lost their appetite. In addition, they generally have a low-grade fever, cough, and a runny nose. Most often, the symptoms are confused with those associated with Bordetella, commonly known as kennel cough.

Canine friends have little immunity to the flu outbreak because most have never been exposed to the virus before, according to WebMD. As a result, almost all dogs exposed to the virus catch it, and 80 percent show symptoms within the first four days, Cynda Crawford told WebMD. Crawford is an assistant professors of shelter medicine at the University of Florida, and she’s one of the researchers who first discovered the dog flu virus in 2004.

If you think your dog might have the dog flu, take him or her to your veterinarian immediately, and a blood or nasal swab test in order to find out if your pet is, in fact, infected, she said.

The good news is that, if your dog is infected, he’s likely to be the only one in your home who is sick with the dog flu. Unlike bird flu, dogs and humans are not likely to spread the virus to one another, as each species is susceptible to different strains of the flu. Instead, most dogs have fallen victim to the dog flu outbreak after spending time around other dogs that have or are carrying the flu virus.

In order to avoid the dog flu, experts recommend isolating your dog until the outbreak has passed. In addition, many veterinarian’s recommend a dog flu vaccine, which costs about $100 per year.

Dogs that attend doggie day care or play in dog parks are most at risk, while those that have recently been to the groomer or have recently come from shelters are also at risk. The dog flu can be spread three ways: through direct contact between dogs, through contaminated surfaces, and through the air.

On it’s own, the dog flu isn’t necessarily life-threatening to dogs, according to Edward Dubovi, Ph.D. Dubovi is the director of the virology laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, and he worked with Crawford on the research when the dog flu was first discovered in 2004.

“The secondary bacterial infections are where the real danger lies,” Dubovi told WebMD. “But most dogs, with the proper veterinary care, aren’t impacted severely.”

As has been the case thus far in Chicago, the fatality rate of dogs infected with dog flu is usually less than five percent. But sometimes dogs infected with the virus contract other infections, which could lead to pneumonia — a much more serious ailment for dogs.

Since 2004, dog flu outbreaks have occurred in 40 states and Washington D.C. If you think your dog could have fallen victim to the dog flu outbreak, take him or her to a vet immediately.

[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]