Dog flu in NYC: What you need to know about symptoms, treatment

Reports of a highly contagious dog flu have emerged in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Reports of a highly contagious dog flu have emerged in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Thirty-six cases of canine influenza have been reported in Brooklyn as of May 23 and the influenza virus is likely to spread to other parts of the city, a research-focused animal health company, Merck Animal Health, reports. As of Thursday, more than 15 cases had already been reported in Manhattan, said Dr. Yasmine Mortsakis, lead veterinarian at New York Veterinary Practice.

Veterinarians all over the city have released ways you can spot the symptoms and protect your pup. While you may have to boycott doggie day cares and dog parks for the time being, the wealth of information regarding warning signs and treatments is sure to get you on your way to playing with a happy and healthy pup once again.

Here is what you need to know:

How infectious is the virus?

Since the particular strain of the virus, type H3N2, is relatively new, most dogs have not had a chance to develop immunity toward it. This makes the city’s canines more susceptible to contracting the flu, according to Merck Animal Health.

While humans are immune to it, they can be a carrier for the strain. Coughing and sneezing, physically touching and sharing toys with infected canines can all lead to a rapid spreading of the virus.

“Pups that travel with their families, are social or visit places like dog parks, doggie daycare, grooming facilities and boarding kennels are at increased risk,” veterinarian Dr. Courtney Campbell said in an emailed statement.

How do you know if your dog is infected?

Some of the symptoms to watch out for include high fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, a runny nose and coughing. These symptoms might appear for other respiratory illnesses as well, so it is crucial to consult a veterinarian immediately, Diana Bardusk, spokeswoman for Merck Animal Health said in an emailed statement.

The flu can last seven to 10 days, but it can take two to four days for symptoms to show, Bardusk added. These can manifest intermittently for up to 24 days, Merck Animal Health reported.

Very young and very old dogs, and pups with immunodeficiencies are more likely to contract the disease, Mortsakis said via telephone Thursday. However, young and healthy dogs have also contracted the infection, and other outliers have made it difficult to narrow down a certain type of dog that might be more vulnerable, she added.

Can this be prevented?

Yes. Local veterinary offices and clinics offer vaccines to prevent dog flu. These are advised to be administered along with other vaccines that prevent respiratory infections in your dog.

These can cost between $50-$60 or $100 depending on the veterinarian and the clinic, Mortsakis said. Dogs that have not been previously vaccinated for influenza will need to be vaccinated against both strains of the virus, H3N2 and H3N8, she added.

What to do when your dog is infected?

It is advised to keep your infected pup away from other canines for at least three weeks. Veterinarians also advise pet owners to periodically clean out their pup’s toys and water bowl with soap and water, while also diligently disinfecting your hands with alcohol-based sanitizer. Make sure to wash clothing that has been exposed to dogs that have respiratory illnesses.

Lots of rest, fluids and food is essential to recovery, Mortsakis said.

Pet owners also are advised to keep apprised of news of dog flu outbreaks in their area and check in with their usual pet institutions to make sure they’re informed of any infected pups.

How did the flu originate?

The particular strain making the rounds was first encountered in Chicago in 2015, when it resulted in several fatalities, Mortsakis said. It is believed to be an avian flu from Korea that started infecting dogs, she said. In 2018, more than 500 cases were reported in California and Nevada, which is believed to be only the tip of the iceberg, Mortsakis said.

“All it takes is for one person to get on a plane with a dog,” she said, adding that it was “only a matter of time” before the flu appeared on the East Coast.

Mortsakis encouraged all dog owners to be aware and contact a local veterinarian as soon as warning signs start appearing in their pets.

“This is spreading pretty quickly,” she added, advising caution.