Apex, N.C. — As more cases of canine influenza are reported nationwide, many dog owners worry about the potential risks of the illness and whether they should get their pets vaccinated.
The H3N8 virus that causes canine influenza first showed up about five years ago. Dogs can get it from each other or from people who carry it from one dog to another.
Dr. Dwight Cochran, an Apex veterinarian, said the illness begins with a cough similar to kennel cough, but worse.
"(There is) lots of mucus from the nose. (The dogs are) just really depressed and, often times, they require hospitalization," Cochran said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado have reported widespread outbreaks of the virus.
Only a few cases have been reported in North Carolina.
Eighty percent of the cases are mild, according to the CDC. Still, a vaccine is available to immunize animals against the virus.
The vaccine costs about $50 and is administered in two shots about three weeks apart.
"I think most veterinarians have elected to use the vaccine on a risk-benefit basis," Cochran said. "The dogs that go to the dog parks, the dogs that board on a regular basis or travel a lot would be those who would have a higher risk (of contracting the virus)."
One of the employees at Cochran's clinic, for example, vaccinated Scribbles, her retriever mix, against H3N8 because she's in contact with a lot of dogs every day and she often brings Scribbles to work with her.
Cochran said dog owners need to pay attention and not panic about the virus.
"One of the major networks was carrying a piece from a veterinarian (where) every one of his clients is being recommended (for the vaccine)," he said. "Well, that makes sense because he's in a hot bed in New Jersey. Does that make sense in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, the Triangle? I'm not convinced every pet needs to have it."