It’s cold and flu season again. While that means many people will be getting flu shots, there’s one member of the family you may not realize needs one too: your dog.

The H3N8 virus, identified in 2004 and commonly known as “dog flu,” has sickened thousands of dogs in 38 states. Currently there are outbreaks in the New York metropolitan area and near San Antonio, Texas, with other states like Pennsylvania and Colorado reporting epidemics throughout the year, as well.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, clinical assistant professor in shelter medicine at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said dog flu is highly contagious and thus easily spread.

“This is a very mobile virus, and we live in a highly mobile society that contributes to the spread of influenza, which means it can go from one community to another simply by travel of infected dogs that are still contagious,” she said.

Symptoms mimic that of the human flu — coughing, nasal discharge, a low-grade fever and sneezing — and secondary bacterial pneumonia is a concern. Dogs most at risk are those who are frequently boarded, go to doggie day care, are in shelters or that travel to places where the dog flu is most prevalent.

Crawford says that while dog-to-dog infection is most common, “People are one of the biggest transmitters of canine influenza. They may handle an infected dog, and the virus is shed and it gets all over their hands and their clothing.”

“If you want to have a proactive strategy to protect against the unpredictability of canine influenza virus, the best preventive strategy is vaccination,” she says.

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