BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Health is a top priority for all dog owners.
Dogs can get sick and even catch the flu, just like humans.
Vets have only become aware of the dog flu in the last decade and they still have much to learn. However, they do know it's something dog owners should be worried about.
There's no doubt that owners love their dogs.
"He melted my heart when I saw him through his cage," said Bianca Joyeux. "I had to get him."
"The loyalty, the welcome home aspect," said Dhana Johnson.
"They're angels," Joyeux added.
They all agree that their dog's health is very important. Dog owners in Louisiana and the nation face a relatively new threat to that health … the dog flu. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, canine influenza was first diagnosed in 2004 in Florida. It has since been reported in 40 states. There have been several major outbreaks, most recently in Chicago in 2015. It is very similar to the human flu.
"Fever, achiness, respiratory signs - so there are a lot of parallels there," said Dr. Kirk Ryan, a veterinarian with the LSU Department of Small Animal Medicine.
He said the dog flu is something that veterinarians are concerned about. It's very contagious and can spread quickly.
"Dogs that congregate in groups, cough and sneeze on each other or have close contact. They can spread the virus just like human beings can spread the flu," Ryan explained.
The dog flu is not contagious from animal to human. So, Sassy couldn't give the dog flu to a person. However, it is contagious from animal to animal, so Sassy could give the dog flu to Motley. But just how concerned should dog owners be? There have been no reported cases in Louisiana and the mortality rate is about 10 percent, which is much lower than more serious diseases, like distemper, which kills around half of its victims.
"There are much more serious diseases like parvo and distemper that we see much more commonly that also have vaccines and they're really, really important. There's diseases like rabies that can be spread to people and the rabies vaccine is very important. Dog flu, on the list, is relatively low," Ryan added.
Although it isn't the most dangerous disease, researchers have developed a dog flu vaccine, like those for parvo and distemper. Joyeux recently rescued Duke, who was in bad shape when she first found him. She said the dog flu vaccine is on her list of treatments because she's worried about Duke not handling it well if he catches it.
"We need to work on a lot of things, weight being one of them, but I'm definitely going to give him the dog flu vaccination as soon as I can," Joyeux said.
"I hadn't really been educated about that," Johnson added.
Johnson and other owners aren't as concerned. She didn't know a lot about the dog flu when she was reviewing vaccines for Jason, her Rottweiler, but she felt the risks paled in comparison to other diseases.
"Heart health - making sure they don't have heart worms, tapeworms," Johnson explained.
AVMA has identified two strains of the dog flu: H3N8 and H3N2. The New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Zoetis is one of only two centers that makes a dog flu vaccine, which they sell to veterinarians. Researcher Dr. Eileen Ball said they developed a vaccine for H3N8 in 2010 and H3N2 in 2015. When trying to decide on whether or not to get the vaccine, Ball said dog owners need to think about their dog's environment.
"The dogs that don't go out and don't interact with other dogs, other than maybe to a couple times a year go to the veterinarian's office, those dogs might be at less risks," Ball said. "But for any dog that is involved in any sort of situation where there's a high density of dogs, they're going to boarding facilities, groomers, doggy day cares, dog parks - vaccinations for canine influenza virus is certainly something that we would recommend having a conversation with the veterinarian about."
Right now, LSU is not doing any research into the dog flu, but veterinarians can test for the disease. Ryan is in favor of more research because doctors still have a lot to learn.
"The more we know about one disease, the more we know about all diseases," he said.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the dog flu should consult their veterinarian or go to www.avma.org.