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Dog owners brace for canine flu

fr dogparkMountain dog owners may have started hearing rumor of a devastating canine flu strain coming their way, but according to area veterinarians there’s no cause for hysteria.

“In an otherwise healthy animal, they should be pretty quick to recover, so I would not be totally panicked about what’s going on,” said Joel Harrington, a veterinarian at Waynesville Animal Hospital. 

As to what, exactly, is going on, the answer so far is “not much.” Cases of the virus, which has seen outbreaks in cities across the eastern U.S. over the last few months, have been confirmed in Asheville, but vets in counties west of Buncombe have not yet seen any cases. Harrington hasn’t seen any. Neither have Maple Tree or Junaluska animal hospitals in Waynesville, Western Carolina Animal Hospital and Pain Clinic in Sylva or Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital in Franklin. 

That said Asheville is not far. It’s certainly not out of the question that the canine flu could pop up at any moment.  

“There’s a very reasonable chance that we will see some of it here at some point,” Harrington said. “The hope is that it’s minimized.”

The canine flu works much like the human flu. It causes fever, lethargy, upper respiratory problems and is generally a much more serious issue for very young, very old or immune-compromised dogs. Most dogs recover with no problem, but the flu can be fatal for animals that are weaker or don’t get the proper care. 

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And, just like when a human flu strain is going around, “We don’t freak out when this is going through,” said Dawn Todd, co-owner of Noah’s Ark. “We worry about nursing homes and the hospital. We worry about day cares. It’s the exact same thing with the canine flu.”

The best cure, Harrington said, is prevention. Until the flu’s swept through or the threat of it is gone, it’s best for dog owners to keep their animals away from places where dogs congregate, such as dog parks, and to make sure that groomers and kennels are asking the right questions of their clients to keep potentially sick animals out. 

Canine flu is airborne, so animals can become infected without actually touching a sick animal. However, Harrington said, in open-air environments like parks the virus tends to dissipate quickly. Indirect contact is more of a concern indoors. 

An infected animal will usually show symptoms after about five days but can become contagious as soon as two days after contact. Usually, animals are no longer contagious after 10 to 14 days.  

There is a vaccine available for dog flu, but the strain currently of concern is different than the one that the available vaccine addresses. However, Harrington said, vaccination can still be helpful. The company’s guarantee says it will pay for testing and treatment for animals that contract the flu after being vaccinated, and even the wrong strain can give some protection, possibly reducing the severity of symptoms. 

However, Harrington said, it’s important that anyone who suspects having an infected animal call ahead rather than taking their dog inside a waiting room full of flu-free animals. 

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