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May 16, 2014

Dog flu shows up in local canine population

Feeling congested, eyes and nose running, can’t stop coughing? And are you a dog?

No, really. Canine influenza could be the source of these woes, and “it’s around here,” said Dr. William Friedman, veterinarian at Beverly Animal Hospital.

The state Division of Animal Health has posted a warning about “a cluster of confirmed canine influenza cases in Essex County.” The division’s spokeswoman, Amy Mahler, said the disease has been known to impact greyhounds. It was seen previously in Massachusetts in two isolated cases, but “this is the first cluster of canine influenza we’ve seen.”

There is a vaccine but no cure for the flu, which is caused by a virus, Mahler said.

Should a dog come down with the disease, owners are advised to treat it the way humans do and “let it run its course,” Mahler said. “ Most dogs will recover.” However, there is a 1 to 5 percent fatality rate, she said.

Canine influenza must be reported to the state when it appears. Just as the human flu can be dangerous, even deadly, for elderly people or those with weakened immune systems, the doggie version is worrisome for some vulnerable canines.

Dogs in situations that expose them to other dogs, as in dog shows or day care centers, are especially vulnerable, Mahler said.

The ailment cannot be spread to humans, Friedman said. He hasn’t taken cultures from any of the animals he treats, so he can’t say for certain that any have had the flu. “But I’ve seen dogs with respiratory problems,” he said, and some of them probably had the flu.

Friedman advises that those who suspect their dog has the flu to keep the animal away from day care facilities, lest they spread it. The facilities, themselves, have a special responsibility for preventing the spread of the flu, which happens from dog-to-dog contact and by the virus being spread by sneezing or coughing.

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