A new strain of canine flu that infected thousands of dogs in the Midwest recently has arrived in Massachusetts, officials said.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals encountered its first case of the virus, which is not covered by the canine flu vaccine, on May 3 when a 5-year-old terrier named Paris came into the MSPCA-Angell West medical center in Waltham, said Rob Halpin , an MSPCA spokesman.
Paris had just returned from a family trip to Chicago. She was lethargic and had a fever and hacking cough, Halpin said.
While the hospital is awaiting confirmation of the flu strain, doctors suspect it is the same type that has infected more than 1,700 dogs in a single county in Illinois, as well as dogs in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, Halpin said.
Paris is recovering at home in Watertown, but her case should alert dog owners to the risks facing their pets, said Dr. Jinni Sinnott of Angell West’s emergency and critical care department.
“Dog owners have to be on the front lines of protecting each other if we want to avoid an outbreak here,” Sinnott said.
The strain involved in the outbreak — H3N2 — is more contagious than the previous one, Sinnott said.
“Infection happens nearly 100 percent of the time after exposure,” she said.
The flu, which causes coughing, runny nose, and a decrease in appetite, is spread through dog-to-dog contact. Dogs are sick an average of 10 to 20 days, but some could see symptoms last as long as a month, Sinnott said. The best treatment is rest and plenty of water, she added.
The virus does not pose a threat to humans, cats, or other animals, the MSPCA said.
If owners notice their dogs have flu-like symptoms, and if they have been to the Midwest recently, Sinnott suggests calling a veterinarian rather than bringing the dog to a hospital and possibly infecting other canines.
Dogs typically need to be hospitalized only if they are having trouble breathing or have stopped eating, she said. There have been no reported cases of dogs dying from flu.
To keep dogs from catching the virus, people should steer clear of dog parks and veterinarian offices in the outbreak states, Sinnott advised.
“One of the reasons we want to reach out to people now is because this is the beginning of summer travel season,” she said. There is an increased risk of infection when people are bringing their dogs around the country.
While the origin of the strain is unknown, Sinnott said, initial reports suggest it first appeared in the United States in Chicago. Before that, the strain had been reported only in Asia.