Guilford Veterinary Hospital co-founder and veterinarian Donald Mullen has a simple message for pet owners who have heard in recent days about a new strain of dog virus that has hit Guilford and the shoreline.
"Do not panic" are his three words of advice-advice he finds himself and others giving to scores of dog lovers daily. Second, Mullen said, is to tell people that humans can't get sick from the virus, even if their dogs have it. And, the virus has no impact on cats, either.
"The biggest health issue dog owners have," said Mullen, "is lack of sleep. Their dogs are coughing all night, keeping people awake."
Canine influenza was first identified in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004. It spread to the wider canine population, apparently as retired racers were adopted into homes.
The contagious disease has now been reported in nearly 80 percent of the states in the country, including Connecticut; Guilford cases were the first diagnosed locally.
With increasing media reports of the virus-which Mullen says closely mimics, in symptoms, kennel cough-the nervousness by pet owners has heightened.
Mullen said the first thing concerned dog owners should do "is stay off the Internet. There is a lot of misinformation out there" about canine influenza, he said. "You don't use the Internet to find the right hairdresser," he said. "So don't use it to try and diagnose your dog."
What should you do if you suspect your dog has the flu?
"Call your vet," said Mullen.
The new flu strain affects only dogs. The symptoms include a body temperature that's warm to the touch, listlessness, poor appetite, runny nose, and a cough similar to kennel cough.
The virus spreads through secretions, the air, and coughing and sneezing, and while humans are not affected, people can spread the virus by simply petting a dog that has the virus.
The Guilford Veterinary hospital has treated about two dozen dogs with the canine flu over the past month. Ironically, though, down the road a few miles in Branford, a receptionist at the Branford Veterinary Hospital said it hasn't seen the new flu strain there, yet.
A lot of dogs in the same place, at the same time, is what helps spread the flu, so puppy classes, doggy day care, kennels, and groomers are all places to pass it on. Dogs that have been vaccinated against kennel cough or parainfluenza will still require two vaccines to combat this new strain.
Mullen said while all breeds can come down with the virus, most susceptible are "short-nosed dogs with sinus problems."
Mullen added that "there really isn't a season" for the dog virus-that "it simply has to run its course."
In the meantime, the veteran Guilford veterinarian reiterated that the best thing a concerned dog owner can do "is have a conversation with your vet."