With the flu virus seemingly running rampant, causing misery and even death, I wondered if our pets were at risk of catching the viral infection from us humans.

So I asked a local veterinarian, Dr. Gage Furtado. He treats all sorts of furry friends at Animal Hospital of Newton-Conover.

First, Dr. Furtado taught me a new word: zoonotic. He explained that a zoonotic disease is one that can cross from animal to human and human to animal. “Can cross species lines,” said the veterinarian. Think rabies, a good example of a zoonotic disease with which we’re all familiar.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov, “Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from diseases spread between animals and people.” Especially vulnerable are children under 5, people over 65, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

We also can get parasites from our pets. Hookworms, roundworms, and giardia are a few examples. Now if you like horror movies, check out the CDC’s picture of a giardia, and your mind will concoct a doozy of a scary dream when you go to bed.

As I write this, I’m glancing worriedly toward my cat. She’s enjoying a snooze in the sun and looking completely unlike any sort of critter that might share a nasty organism with me. The CDC recommends a number of preventative steps to take if you spend time with animals, the main one being hand washing after handling any sort of beast. The organization goes so far as to suggest hand washing even if you don’t touch the animal you get near, such as at a petting zoo.

Dr. Furtado’s recommendation, one that he repeated a number of times, is that we keep our pets (and I’m going to add farm animals here for those of you who have cows, pigs, chickens, and the like) healthy by regularly taking them to the veterinarian for preventative medicine, such as vaccinations, and to be checked for vile creatures like parasites.

Furthermore, emphasized Dr. Furtado, we must get our beloved dogs, cats, rabbits, etc., to the animal doc when they show signs of illness. Some symptoms we need to be concerned about are coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.

“This is not a time to rely on Google,” Dr. Furtado pointed out.

In other words, don’t try to diagnose and treat Fido and Miss Fluffy Tail by yourself.

On to the topic of the day: flu. Dr. Furtado suggested that there are lots of flu viruses, and they can mutate quickly. This year, humans are getting the H3N2 strain of flu virus.

“We do see an H3N2 flu virus in dogs,” said Dr. Furtado, “but it is not the same as human H3N2. At this time, there have been no human to dog or dog to human cases as far as the current CDC knowledge.”

Dogs also can get a strain called H3N8.

Canine flu, said Dr. Furtado, has been seen in specific cases, and those instances, like flu spreading among humans, involve a sick dog coming into contact with healthy dogs. From that point, the flu spreads as the sick animals move about an area or travel to other parts of the country.

Dr. Furtado gave the example of a 2015 outbreak of dog flu in a Chicago animal shelter. He added that during the outbreak, some cats tested positive for flu, but their symptoms were mild or nonexistent.

Though he does know there have been cases of dog flu in North Carolina, he said, “I have not seen any diagnosed cases of H3N2 – the dog kind – (in my practice).”

Dr. Furtado wouldn’t be surprised to see, in the future, more and more cases of dog flu and possibly flu among other animals. He said cats and horses have been experimentally infected with the flu virus.

“We think of this as an emerging disease,” said the veterinarian. “We have to be highly vigilant and watch for signs of disease in dogs.”

I got the worrisome feeling from Dr. Furtado that flu viruses are dangerously unpredictable and can mutate to become hazardous to just about any living thing. More nightmare material.

The good news for our dogs is that there’s a flu vaccine for canines, and some veterinary offices, like Dr. Furtado’s, offer a vaccination that protects against both the dog form of H3N2 and H3N8. Dr. Furtado said he recommends the vaccine, especially for dogs in high risk situations, meaning they go places where there are other dogs, such as dog parks, or they travel with their owners. The dog flu vaccine is given in two parts: dose one and then a few weeks later, a booster.

“This vaccination works pretty well,” said Dr. Furtado, but he warned again, “Any flu virus can change rapidly though.”

In conclusion, Dr. Furtado stated, “You don’t need to worry about making your dog sick if you have the flu, and if your dog exhibits symptoms, take him to the veterinarian.”

And if you need a good reason to remember to give your pet their parasite prevention meds, have a look at a greatly enlarged photo of one of the creatures. You’ll feel creepy all over but your beloved four-legged friend will be protected.

Share story ideas with Mary at marycanrobert@charter.net.

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