Veterinarians are sounding the alarm about an outbreak of canine influenza in Brooklyn. The malady can cause cause flu-like symptoms in dogs, including coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and loss of appetite. But for up to 10% of dogs, this flu could be fatal, even if it is aggressively treated, says Dr. Natara Loose, the veterinarian at The Neighborhood Vet in Brooklyn. Veterinarians are strongly encouraging that dog owners get their pets vaccinated for the flu and get the booster two weeks later. There is no guarantee that the vaccine fully protects against the flu, but it can greatly minimize the symptoms.

Once a dog has the illness, it takes three to five days for it to develop symptoms, and the dog can be contagious up to 30 days after contracting the illness. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, most dogs recover in 2-3 weeks, but even after recovery, a dog could be contagious for weeks.

Dr. Loose said that she had three reported cases in her clinic that were contracted from a doggy day care, and she knows of three other reported cases from the same doggy day care. (Dr. Loose declined to identify the day care, citing patient confidentiality.) Loose said that there are no concrete figures on the number of dogs infected, since there is no central database and there are multiple labs testing for this disease. But Dr. Loose confirmed that there are four other cases from a local ER in Brooklyn, and in her view the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area seems to be a hub for this virus.

A veterinarian at Crown Heights Animal Hospital said they received reports of a case of canine influenza from the veterinary clinics BluePearl and VERG-Brooklyn. Dr. Carey Hemmelgarn, a veterinarian at Blue Pearl, said that they have treated two confirmed cases of the flu, and 30 cases of coughing dogs who could have the flu. She said that VERG-Brooklyn was experiencing similar rates. Most people don't want to test their dog for the flu (the test is $300), and instead just treat their dog with antibiotics, said Dr. Hemmelgarn.

The flu strains H3N8 and H3N2 are highly contagious. Up to 80% of dogs exposed to the virus will contract it. The flu is airborne and contagious up to 25 feet, according to Dr. Loose. Any place with a high concentration of dogs increases the likelihood of catching the illness, and dogs do not have to touch each other to spread the virus.

Humans can’t catch canine influenza, but can spread it to dogs through their hands or their clothing. It remains contagious on hands for up to 12 hours, and on clothing for up to 24 hours, so dog owners should wash their hands and change their clothes regularly if they think they have come in contact with a sick dog, said Dr. Loose.

Dog walkers could spread the disease if they are petting dogs with the flu and not washing their hands or changing their clothes, and it could be spread if they use the same leash or safety collar on many different dogs. Dr. Loose recommends that people who use dog walkers should ask if any of the dogs they walk have experienced symptoms of canine influenza, and what they are doing to prevent its spread.

If you suspect that your dog has the flu, you should call your vet immediately, and your dog should be taken directly to a quarantine room in the vet’s office. Do not escort your dog in through the reception area, because it could infect any other dog waiting there. It is even possible the flu strain could spread to cats, but there have been no reported cases of that happening in New York.

One of our readers contacted us to say that his dog, a three year old hound, contracted influenza. He said that his regular doggy daycare reported 5 cases of suspected kennel cough, but that those could have been the flu. When his dog began to develop a cough, his girlfriend took the dog to their veterinarian. The vet reacted like it was an emergency and said that they would have to bleach all the rooms that the dog had been in. The dog is currently recovering at home under quarantine, and has been prescribed a round of antibiotics.

For more information, visit the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s page on Canine Influenza.