Outdoors: Dog flu difficult diagnosis for Minnesota pet owners

Being a dog owner, it got my attention when I read some newspaper headlines that some cases of dog flu had recently been identified in Crow Wing, Kandiyohi, Ramsey, Sherburne and Wright counties in Minnesota. As of Aug. 17, 11 cases of dog flu were reported to the Board of Animal Health in Minnesota.

A healthy hunting dog Photo submitted
A healthy hunting dog Photo submitted

How this flu gets to the state is a controversial issue. There is a huge demand for animals in Minnesota and not enough pets to meet that demand. Animals are often shipped in from other states to animal shelters and then distributed to folks who want to have a pet dog or cat. These animals are inspected and must meet health standards to cross state lines, but the flu is often very hard to detect in the early stages and thus some animals fall through the cracks even though shelters in Minnesota are very diligent about screening incoming animals.

So, what is the flu danger to those of us who have dogs and how do we try to prevent our animals from getting sick? I contacted my local veterinarian, Dr. Kathy Marcussen, who owns the Staples Veterinary Clinic in Staples, Minnesota. According to Marcussen, animal flu is a summer seasonal event. Animals get the flu in the warmer months of the year and people get the flu in the colder months. People tend to get bunched together in the winter months and are exposed to others, while dogs get exposed to other dogs more during the warmer months. People go on vacation, take their dog to a boarding kennel or take their dogs to family outings, exposing them to other dogs. The opportunities for exposure are endless.

The good news is we can’t get flu from the dogs and they can’t get flu from us either. The bad news is like the flu people get, dog flu is very contagious. It is a virus and can take the life of an animal that has immune deficiencies.

According to Marcussen, flu symptoms are very similar in dogs and people; Fever and cough that will last one to three weeks, decreased appetite, lethargy and a greenish discharge from the nose and eyes. Diagnosis can be tricky because some of the symptoms mimic those of other illnesses like kennel cough and even pneumonia.

Treatment options include rest, home monitoring, changes in food and watering, antibiotics and oxygen therapy. There are some vaccinations available but ideally they should be given before the dog contacts the flu.

Marcussen stated that most dogs that get the flu will survive if they are healthy before getting sick. Unfortunately, some will not survive. She said the most important protection a dog owner can practice is to not expose your dog to other dogs during the summer months. That is the best prevention. Fortunately, the number of cases of flu are dwindling now that we are nearing the end of summer.