What you need to know about dog flu

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With most of the country still struggling with the worst flu season in years, some states are also dealing with outbreaks of canine influenza. California, Illinois, and Kentucky have all experienced sporadic cases of the dog flu.

So, we asked some two veterinarians at the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine to weigh in on what dog owners need to know. Dr. Amie Koenig, an associate professor of Emergency Medicine and Critical Care, says flu in dogs looks a lot like flu in humans.

"So, they may just be lethargic, they may have nasal discharge, ocular discharge," Dr. Koenig says.  "They may have a cough.  There are dogs that get the flu that have almost no signs at all."

Although the U.S. is only seeing sporadic outbreaks of dog flu, Dr. Jeremiah Saliki, Director, and Professor of Virology at the UGA Vet says canine flu isn't going to go away anytime soon.

"It's an ongoing outbreak," Dr. Saliki says.  "So, there is always the possibility it will spread, with dogs traveling."

Canine influenza is usually transmitted from one dog to another through close contact,  in places where dogs gather, like dog parks, kennels, and boarding facilities. Like the human flu, it's transmitted through airborne respiratory droplets,  when an infected dog barks, sneezes or on leaves germs behind on shared toys or other objects. But it's not always clear, at least initially, that a dog is sick with the flu.

 "One complicating factor is that infected dogs can actually start shedding the virus, with the dogs contaminating their environment, before they show the first clinical signs of coughing and runny nose," Salike explains.

There is a new canine influenza vaccine, based on the H3N2 virus that surfaced in 2015, sickening thousands of dogs across the U.S. But does your dog need it?

Both experts say the answer depends on how much time your dog spends around other dogs.

If you travel with your dog, especially to areas where there are outbreaks, you may need the vaccine.

Same thing if you go to dog parks or doggie daycare facilities.

"Anytime there are a lot of dogs that get together, those are the dogs at highest risk of influenza," Dr. Koenig says.

Your dog can't spread the flu to you. But, research shows dogs can infect cats.

And if your dog has a hacking, or even honking cough, he or she may have kennel cough, not dog flu.

That's a much more common respiratory infection, and dogs with kennel cough may need to be treated with antibiotics. Dr. Saliki says to be vigilant about watching for signs of a cough, nasal discharge or lethargy.

"When you see those signs it is good to go to the veterinarian and have them take a sample to rule in and rule out dog flu," Saliki says.