A rare epidemic of canine flu is spreading throughout the Chicago area, veterinary experts warned.
In an advisory issued by the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, officials said more than 1,000 cases had been identified over the past month and five dogs have died from the disease.
The Chicago Park District began posting warning signs at dog parks last week advising dog owners to keep their pets away from any place where there is close contact with other dogs, a spokeswoman for the organization said. Over the weekend the group canceled their annual doggy Easter egg hunt held at a local dog park to prevent the spread of the illness.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in respiratory cases over the past month, about 50 to 100 between all of our partner hospitals,” said Dr. Anne Cohen, an emergency and critical care specialty veterinarian at Chicago Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center.
Canine flu symptoms are a lot like human symptoms and include fever, cough, nasal discharge and lack of energy, Cohen said. And just like human flu it can be caught from sneezes and coughs, nose-to-nose contact or from infected surfaces. Symptoms last for about two weeks until the virus runs its course.
Canine flu is actually somewhat rare but highly contagious when it does strike, Cohen said. Dogs that spend a lot of time socializing at parks, day care or the groomers are the most likely to get sick.
A canine flu shot exists but Cohen said not all dogs need it. The two-shot vaccination spaced about three weeks apart may not ward off the illness altogether, but can reduce its length and severity. Animals need a booster shot every year for full protection, Cohen said.
“This isn’t a typical vaccination we give but because of the outbreak we’re recommending it for all high-risk dogs,” Cohen said.
Thankfully, canine flu is rarely fatal, veterinarians said. Anyone concerned about their furry friend catching a case should consult with their veterinarian.