Dog Flu Might Be Avoided, Be Responsible


Dog flu is still here. In some areas, it seems there is less of it. However, according to Cook County administrator for the Department of Animal and Rabies Control Dr. Donna Alexander, there are more reports in other places. In additional, several area shelters have been hit, and some hit hard. This is a potential tragedy.

The best way to protect your dog is to prevent exposure to other dogs.

Here’s what people aren’t hearing or understanding, or paying attention to: You can’t tell if your dog is contagious. BEFORE dogs actually gets sick with the virus, showing symptoms, they obligingly share the virus with other dogs for a week or slightly more. And around 20 to 25 percent of the dogs with the virus don’t themselves show any symptoms (great for that individual), but they remain contagious and share the virus with other dogs.  And this virus does happen to be very contagious.

Early on, the Chicago Park District came on board and put up signage at my request (which I wrote, with editing from the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association and Dr. Alexander) warning people to enter Chicago Park District Dog Friendly Areas at their own risk. The signage is there, and also it’s at some suburban dog parks. But on a beautiful day (and we’ve had several now), people want to get out with their dogs and have fun. But at what cost?

I went to the Montrose dog beach, or Mondog,  this past weekend. It wasn’t packed as it normally would have been. I’d say the dog beach was about half as crowded, but still! I even identified a coughing dog!!!!

Never mind that reckless owner who took their sick dog out (maybe a lingering cough following the flu, I don’t know), but as mentioned you don’t know in a crowd of dogs who is carrying the virus and who isn’t.

I was curious and spoke to owners about why they were ignoring warnings to enter. I asked, Why are you here? You can read the answers, and you can also read my replies. (I don’t identify anyone by name as my purpose wasn’t to embarrass or “out” them, just so I can better understand why people are not heeding the warnings of the Chicago area veterinary community):

dog owner:  “If the park district and city were really serious, they would close the dog parks and dog beaches.”

my response: Aside from the bureaucratic issue to achieve that, there are clear warning signs now. Also, here at the dog beach, you can’t efficiently seal off the area, people can get in easily, even if gates are closed. And at city dog friendly areas, we’re concerned that people would just jump over the fences and toss their dogs over. If people want to get in – they still would.

dog owner: “I know – I would. My dog isn’t getting sick.”

my response: I hope you’re right….but someone’s dog is getting sick, many dogs. I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

dog owner, didn’t respond but his approximately 12-year old son spoke up: “This is all a media exaggeration.”

my response: And how do you know? In fact, the number of dogs sickened – which is estimated by the Cook County veterinarian, may be twice or three times as many as she suggests. And the same with the number of dogs who have died  By her own admission, she’s likely under-reported numbers for various reasons

dog owner’s son: “I don’t know about that.”


dog owner: “I’ve heard something about it, but I saw my veterinarian about a week ago, and she didn’t warn me not to come here, or even mention any dog flu.”

my response: If you live in the Chicago area, that’s unfortunate. So, let me tell you what’s going on . . . (I proceeded to do so)…

dog owner: “Hmmm….I guess we’ll be going” (In the 10 more minutes I continued to be there, she did not leave)


dog owner: “This dog flu is no big deal – it’s a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies to sell more vaccines, and veterinarians to make more money.”

my response: Talk to the people I know, who did indeed spend lots of money to get their dog well again. For some hospitalized dogs, we’re talking thousands of dollars.  And dog owners themselves staying up for nights hearing a coughing, miserable dog. That’s kind of a big deal.. As for the vaccines, the current ones which were made for the dog flu strain historically in the U.S. and in a Chicago outbreak in 2008, may or may not work against this strain – that’s what the pharmaceutical companies are saying. There may be some cross-protection, no one yet knows. I personally think the vaccine is a good idea. But that’s decision for you and your veterinarian to make. No one is out there selling vaccines on the street corner. I don’t even understand how such a conspiracy could be possible. Perhaps, you can explain?

dog owner: “All I know is that I’ve ignored the panic reports and my dog is just fine.”

my response: There’s actually a dog here I heard coughing – I sincerely hope your dog stays healthy. (Despite our contentious conversation this dog owner did soon leave, whether it was because she was leaving anyway or she heard my message I don’t know).


– Shame on pet store chains who have done nothing to discourage canine visits, and who still have welcome signs in their windows welcoming dogs. These are not small business that would take a hit by not allowing dogs (as many small pet stores are being responsible). People still can buy dog food or dog toys without a dog. Not only is it dog to dog interaction at pet stores that concerns me, it’s a dog’s wet nose carrying the virus sniffing on a dog treat package.  If within a day (some say even longer) another dog sniffs at that same spot, that second dog will now have the virus.

– Shame on dog walkers walking dogs from multiple homes. Walking too many dogs all at once isn’t likely a great idea anyhow, but this is a sure way to ask for trouble. I’ve suggested dog walkers for sure walk one family’s dog or dogs at a time. Then before the next visit, wash hands and even use antibacterial wipes on shoes.

–  Shame on veterinarians who have reportedly jacked up the dog flu vaccine cost (gauging the public).

– Shame on veterinary professionals who have kept their heads in the sands, not knowing if other veterinarians in their general vicinity are seeing the virus or not – basing their advice solely on their practice(s). While many veterinarians know the canine influenza facts, some actually have not educated themselves.

– Shame on dog owners who live in places or take their dog(s) to places where other dogs may be infected, ignoring veterinary advice not to socialize dogs.

I don’t want to see businesses or individual animals suffer. At some point some dogs need to be groomed, for example. Of course, some groomers will come to homes. Most groomers will not, and dog owners can’t go forever without grooming their best buddies. Just insure the groomer is taking all possible precautions including plenty of bleach between sessions, and keep any dogs boarding in the facility far away.

Dog training classes and puppies able to socialize with other dogs is really important. For adult dogs with a behavioral issue, I suggest people hire dog trainers who can visit homes one on one. However, there are so many advantages to puppy classes, I wonder if it is worth the risk. Well, maybe the compromise is to find a suitable positive reinforcement dog trainer, who bleaches between classes, keeps the dogs apart, and listens and watches very closely for any signs of illness among the canine pupils.

Sometimes people just do need to board or kennel their dog(s). I know that. However, it’s most challenging for boarding facilities to deal with. Even by mandating the vaccine, a logical precaution and by nightly bleaching – you don’t know (as explained) if one or more dogs intermingling with others may be carrying the virus – but not acting sick.  Personally, for now, I suggest a one on one dog walker rather than a dog daycare.

In truth is there always a risk? Sure, in theory dogs can get the flu by sniffing on a fire hydrant that another dog previous “nosed” or sneezed on. But there are unlikely and likely sources of transmission.

At least rule out the likely sources the best you can. If you cross a street when the light is red, you are more likely to be hit by a car than to cross when the light is green. Do people still get hit crossing when the light is green? They do. But it’s not nearly as likely to happen. As a pet owner, you can at least have some control.

Another argument is that, “It’s the flu, what’s the big deal?” That’s true to an extent.  Most dogs, it seems, recover with little or no veterinary intervention. Still, those dogs are uncomfortable for a week or more. And staying up overnight hearing a coughing dog means the entire family may be sleep deprived.  What’s more, if you can prevent your dog from feeling lousy, why wouldn’t you? It is a small percent (thought to be 10 percent or less) that become seriously ill, some of those require hospitalization and some of those hospitalized dogs die. There’s no way to predict which dogs get most ill. Sometimes they are older dogs who are otherwise compromised, but most often they are young healthy dogs. Breed doesn’t seem to be all that predictive of seriousness of illness.

Some daily tips are as appreciative as you may be of businesses leaving out water bowls or treats for dogs on sidewalks, don’t accept those. If you have a small dog and live in an elevator building, pick up the dog. And as rude as it sounds, don’t socialize with other dogs on the street.

Will all these tips matter? Well, they will to more likely keep your own dog healthy. But what about the community? It is indeed, unfortunately possible – that the virus has become so entrenched here it won’t run it’s course, and could become endemic. If that happens the only solutions are dogs getting sick and those who survive do get a degree of immunity. That’s hardly the most ideal answer for pet owners. Another answer is either learn the vaccines we do currently have are cross-protective for this flu strain being mostly seen in the area (H3N2), or a vaccine is created specifically for the strain H3N2.

To the Mondog Beach organizers credit, this appears on their website:


The Canine Influenza Virus (the dog flu) is at serious proportions around Chicago.

All unvaccinated dogs are at risk.  Even dogs not acting sick themselves can carry this virus.

Enter this Dog Friendly Area (DFA) at your own risk

The virus is extremely contagious.  Virtually all unvaccinated dogs that are exposed will contract the disease.

Symptoms include:



lack of appetite

nasal discharge

trouble breathing

If you note any of these symptoms, keep your dog away from other pets and see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

A vaccine for the dog flu may be suggested for social dogs; contact your veterinarian.  All social dogs are required to have the bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine for DFA licensing.

Chicago Veterinary Medical Association

Dr. Donna Alexander, Administrator, Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control

Steve Dale, CABC, WGN Radio

Meanwhile, I implore you – share knowledge with dog-loving friends. It’s not that resources aren’t available, here are a few:

Listen HERE as Dr. Alexander answers your questions on WGN Radio.

Hear my WGN Radio interview with Dr. Jopseh Hahn, Merck Animal Health. is a site with more details.

FAQ’s on dog flu from Blum Animal Hospital, Chicago

Your questions sent to me answered about the dog flu