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Ask a Vet: Concerns arise about canine influenza
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I suppose it was unavoidable. This week I got my first email from a reader regarding canine influenza and the ongoing outbreak here in the U.S.

The reader was concerned after receiving an email purportedly forwarded from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the outbreak. So, in the limited scope of this column, let me summarize.

Canine influenza is a respiratory virus. It rarely causes serious problems for healthy dogs, but it can potentially be deadly.

This is true for most viral infections. Survival rates for rabies are as close to zero as you can get. Survival rates for canine flu are more than 90 percent.

Still it can be a threat. So what can you do?

There is a vaccine. It protects against the strain of dog flu noted in the United States for years. It has been available for about six years and carries a low risk of side effects.

However, the strain in the vaccine is not the same strain thus far isolated from the dogs in Chicago. They are two distinct strains. This means vaccination may give cross-protection against the new virus, but it is not ideal as far as we know.

But few things are ideal, so you do the best you can. Thus, if your vet determines your dog is at risk, get the vaccine. And then do the common sense things: stay away from highly trafficked areas where sick dogs may go; and if you notice an illness, get it checked out. Like flu in humans, supportive care and time are the keys if infection occurs.

I know you will worry about your dog. But as far as the authorities know, no humans or other companion animals have contracted dog flu. Past research indicates cats may be susceptible to this strain, but so far no transmission has been reported.

The main risk appears to be dogs. So if your vet considers your dog’s lifestyle risky, you may need the vaccine. If the risk isn’t there, good for you.

Still, don’t let your dog hang out with snotty-nosed pals. Cleanliness is next to dogliness and all that.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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