Amid a debate over vaccinations for humans, Chicago veterinarians are advising pet owners to consider vaccinating their dogs in an effort to curb a canine flu outbreak. Between January and March, the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control says five dogs died of canine infectious respiratory disease caused by a highly contagious strain known as H3N8, the Aurora Beacon-News and Chicago Tribune report. It doesn't affect humans, but it's easily passed between dogs up to 20 feet away. More than 1,000 cases have been identified. "I have been in practice for 25 years and have never seen this kind of outbreak," says a veterinarian, noting 5% of cases are usually fatal. The outbreak has also hit Wisconsin and Indiana, ABC News reports.
Symptoms like coughing, sneezing, fever, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, and lethargy may not appear for 10 days, but they can then last up to two weeks. The virus can also spread through shedding or by humans, who may touch an infected dog and then others without washing hands or clothing. While a vaccination for canine flu isn't always recommended, veterinarians say "because of the outbreak we're recommending it for all high-risk dogs." The virus can be especially dangerous for dogs under 1 year old and over 7. The Tribune reports it may be several weeks before the outbreak begins to wane. PetSmart last week shut down its PetsHotel service at three Chicago-area locations to prevent the virus' spread. (Click for a much happier dog story.)