MARIETTA - Humans are not the only ones who need to protect themselves from widespread cases of influenza going around this year. Research has shown that peoples' furry four-legged companions are often also at a risk.
According to The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, researchers have known about the existence of a contagious respiratory disease in cats since 1958. But it has been less than 10 years since the canine influenza virus (CIV) was first discovered.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H3N8 virus was first found in dogs in 2004 and was initially spreading through populations of racing greyhounds. The disease reportedly adapted from an equine influenza, which had been known to exist in horses for more than 40 years, said the CDC.
For cats, the condition known as "cat flu" is generally a misnomer, referring to any number of symptoms cats can display that are similar to the flu, such as runny nose, conjunctivitis and a fever, typically caused by feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR).
However, there are accounts of cats being infected with H5N1, commonly known as Avian Flu, according to the CDC. And there are examples of cats, one dog and pet ferrets contracting the H1N1 strain of influenza from their human owners, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports.
While there is no evidence to yet suggest that either the feline or the canine virus can be transmitted to humans or amongst species, the disease does spread quickly where groups of dogs or cats are kept together.
Locally, the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley has not had pets diagnosed with the flu, said manager Steve Herron, but many of the illnesses he and the staff encounter share symptoms with canine and feline flu.
"We deal with things like kennel cough. With the cats it is something similar-an upper respiratory system problem," he said.
But according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it can be hard to tell the difference between the flu and other similar problems during a simple veterinarian visit.
"Canine influenza cannot be diagnosed solely by clinical signs because the clinical signs (coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge) are similar to those associated with all of the other respiratory pathogens and cannot be differentiated from them," said AMVA on its website.
The flu's similarity to other animal ailments is probably one of the reasons that it flies under the radar, said Washington County Dog Warden Kelly Schubert.
"I'm sure that's why it lies undetected in this area. If you treat it as you would kennel cough or a respiratory disease, that will take care of it," she said.
The CDC recommends treating the canine flu viruses with supportive care, which could include increased hydration and medication to comfort a pet.
For cats with flu-like symptoms, antibiotics are recommended to help stave off further bacterial infections.
Fortunately, the flu is rarely deadly in cats and dogs.
The mortality rate is thought to be below 5 percent in dogs, according to the AVMA.
Because the infections are common where large groups of animals are housed together, AVMA recommends keeping pets away from large groups of animals, especially symptomatic ones.
Marietta resident David McCullick, who frequents the Marietta Community Dog Park with his dog Sandy, said he is not worried about having Sandy around other dogs.
"That's what dogs love. They love running around, playing with other dogs," he said.
Plus, said McCullick, he thinks Sandy, a 1-year-old Belgian Ridgeback, is stronger and more resilient than humans generally would be.
If a cat or dog is around other cats and dogs, disinfectants have proven to be highly effective at killing the virus, according to the AVMA.
Vaccinations are also available for cats and dogs.
For more information, pet owners should talk with their veterinarian.