Fido needs a flu shot.
During this busy holiday season, as more pooches go to "doggie motels" while their owners travel, vets are increasingly offering vaccinations against a relatively new strain of canine influenza that induces coughing fits, fever, runny noses and an all-over yucky feeling.
It's a lot like what humans endure and what they try to avoid by getting flu shots.
The H3N8 dog flu virus does not affect people, but is extremely contagious among canines of all ages.
"It travels up to 50 feet with a single cough," veterinarian Howard Gittelman of Animal Medical in Rockland County, N.Y. said. In addition to medical treatment, his facility offers boarding services for pets and now requires flu vaccinations for all its overnight canine guests.
"Influenza has a relatively low mortality rate," Gittelman said. "It's not a killer. It's just a nuisance. The dogs are up all night. They don't stop coughing. You feel terrible for them."
Still, 1 to 5 percent of dogs die from canine flu — though as with humans, most recover on their own.
"In older dogs or sick dogs, like with people, it affects them much worse and makes them more vulnerable to pneumonia," Gittelman said.
Antibiotics don't help, unless the virus worsens into pneumonia. Vaccinations range from around $20 to $60.
Like other animal doctors around the country, Gittelman says he started offering the vaccine this winter. Since November, he's inoculated about 100 dogs. An earlier small outbreak at an area kennel prompted his patients to ask what could be done to avoid the canine flu.
The virus was first identified in 2004, after greyhounds at Florida racetracks began getting sick. The contagion spread to other tracks across the country and in 2006 it was found in California, Colorado and Florida animal shelters.
The H3N8 strain came from a horse virus that jumped species, veterinarians determined. Confirmed cases have steadily increased and are now present in 38 states, according to Merck Animal Health, whose parent company, Merck & Co. Inc., developed a vaccine in 2009.
The virus can be carried by humans and by inanimate objects such as dog leashes and water bowls. But its most prevalent transmission is dog-to-dog, especially in close quarters like a kennel, animal shelter or doggie day care.
Jen Emerson-Mathis, a vet in Des Moines, Iowa, started offering vaccinations a month ago.
"Eventually, it will be mainstream in every state," she predicted.
Dogs get the flu, too
More pets get shots as vets see new dog flu spreading quickly
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