NEWBURYPORT — Local veterinarians have been notified that the canine influenza has arrived in Greater Newburyport.
Dog owners who were unaware that there is even a dog flu aren’t alone.
Canine influenza was first discovered in Florida in 2005, and while the virus will have pockets of outbreaks and has made appearances in other states, this is the first time it has ever been seen in dogs in Massachusetts, said Dr. Heidi Bassler of Bassler Veterinary Hospital in Salisbury.
Since it was never a problem here before now, Bassler said, many local veterinarians, herself included, never vaccinated dogs for the virus, which leaves the dog population vulnerable right now.
“The main thing is that people know that the dogs in this area, the vast majority, have never been exposed to canine influenza,” Bassler said Friday. “We have a immunologically naïve population of dogs.”
“We are trying to notify the public that it is important they contact their veterinarian for the ‘dog flu’ vaccine,” she said.
Bassler said she ordered as many of the vaccinations as she could get; however, each dog needs to have two vaccination shots, several weeks apart. It’s not until several days after the second vaccination that the dog is considered protected, she said.
As with humans, dogs who are most susceptible to getting the flu are those who are often in social settings, such as doggie daycare, puppy groups, obedience classes, dog shows, or those who attend the groomer or dog parks, or visit a kennel to be boarded.
“Dogs that are near each other...can spread it quickly and can become easily infected,” Bassler said. “Any place where a lot of dogs congregate, there are risk factors.”
The virus can be carried on clothing or toys, according to Bassler. With summer coming, families may be planning to board their dogs while on vacation, and it’s important to get your pet vaccinated before doing so, she said.
The vaccine does not prevent a dog from getting sick, but it should shorten the severity or the length of the flu, Bassler said.
Once a dog gets the influenza, as with a human, the disease can progress quickly. The first symptom is an upper respiratory infection, similar to kennel cough, Bassler said. From there, the dog will start to show more signs of becoming sick, including nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite. In the most severe cases, the influenza can develop into pneumonia and require hospitalization, Bassler said. However, most dogs will recover from a mild or moderate case quickly.
One concern, however, is that it will take between 5 and 7 days for a dog to start to show signs of being sick, after getting infected, which means they will appear healthy while spreading the virus in social settings.
Bassler said she treated a Boxer last week that showed signs of canine influenza, but without further testing, it’s impossible to diagnose for certain. Her staff kept the dog — who bypassed the waiting area and went straight into an isolated room — and the room was bleached after his visit, Bassler said. Canine influenza is different than the human kind, meaning you and your pet can’t pass the virus to each other, she added.