A highly contagious influenza strain is making its way through the Midwest.
Canine Influenza, known as Dog Flu, killed many dogs in Chicago last spring. And now we have some confirmed cases of our own right here. In fact, Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory estimates hundreds of dogs have either contracted or been exposed to the virus in Northeast Wisconsin.
The virus was rampant throughout China and Korea in the last year or two, and experts say last spring an infected dog brought the virus to Chicago after traveling from Korea.
Nearly all dogs exposed to the virus will contract it, and 80 percent will show symptoms. Despite the deaths in Chicago last year, less than five percent of dogs will actually die.
Local vets say it’s important to keep things in perspective when thinking about your own dog. They suggest thinking of a bad cold and flu in people. It’s essentially the same for a dog.  A bad cold like an upper respiratory infection is called Kennel Cough. And like a bad cold, it might actually be the flu.
Dr. Pat Warpinksi first started seeing cases of Kennel Cough pop up about three to four weeks ago. Like people, dogs have a yearly cold and flu season, too.  But this year is one of the worst in nearly a decade.
“It started to progress where we started seeing several cases a week, then multiple cases a week,” Warpinski says. “It’s kind of running rampant as of late in the entire area”
When Dr. Warpinski first diagnoses a dog with Kennel Cough he treats it with an antibiotic. But if the dog doesn’t respond, there’s a good chance it’s a virus and possibly the H3N2 Dog Flu.
“We have one confirmed case and several others that aren’t responding real quick or in a normal fashion,” Warpinski says. “So I would definitely have to assume there are more cases of influenza going around.”
Signs of Dog Flu are virtually the same as Kennel Cough. They include the following: coughing or gagging, discharge from the nose or eyes, a loss of appetite, and a noticeable lack of energy.
Cody VanHefty, of Denmark, says althouth he took his dog, Maverick, into Petsmart today, he doesn’t often bring him out in public.
“He’s my hunting buddy,” VanHefty says. “I don’t bring him anywhere where he could possibly run into issues like that.  I don’t take him to a lot of dog parks or anything.”
But just like the cold and flu in people, it sometimes you can’t help but get sick. Still, there are ways to protect your dog. Humans won’t get the virus, but we can spread it. So wash your hands, and use sanitizer. If your dog is symptomatic or susceptible to illnesses, stay home. Consider vaccinating against influenza, but keep in mind that not all dogs need a vaccine. So talk to your veterinarian.
“Don’t go online,” Warpinski. “Talk to the person you trust and that you’ve seen before.  That’s always your best route for information.”
For more information on Kennel Cough and Canine Influenza, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s fact page on Dog Flu.