(NEWS CENTER) -- Think only humans can get the flu? Think again.

The Canine Influenza is an emerging disease affecting dogs across the U.S.

Dr. Ginger Johnson from the Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth joins the Morning Report with ways to protect your best friend.

Canine Influenza A Virus (CIV) or Dog Flu, an Emerging Disease

A highly contagious canine respiratory disease usually causing undetectable to mild clinical signs, similar to a cold and rarely cases of severe disease. The most recent outbreak was in Chicago last year. Spread by close contact of dogs in confinement with each other. Specific testing and treatment is usually not necessary because in most cases the signs resolve on their own. Rare severe cases should be specifically diagnosed, need intensive care and could be lethal. Vaccines need to be specific to the particular strain and can help high risk dogs have less severe symptoms and be less likely to transmit the disease to others.

How does my dog get the flu?

Airborne though close contact with other dogs (animal shelter, daycare, boarding kennel). Because low levels of virus are shed by one dog at at time, this level needs to be concentrated by sharing an air space, having high population of contagious dogs and having sustained contact between dogs to transmit disease. Casual contact is not likely to transmit disease.

Dog parks increase risk, but not as much as confined indoor areas as above.

Dogs are contagious for up to 10 days. Asymptomatic dogs can be contagious. Not currently contagious to humans, few cat positive cases in Chicago area only.

What are the symptoms?

Likely none (50%) or otherwise mild signs of a cold (upper respiratory infection) within 2-5 days of exposure that lasts for 10-30 days: Cough (dry or moist), retch or gag (for up to 3 wks) +/- runny nose and low fever. Rare severe cases in which the damage caused by the virus to the lungs can quickly cause high fever and life threatening bacterial pneumonia. Mortality <1%

Is my dog at risk?

As a newer disease, all dogs are susceptible to infection, but most will show no signs or mild signs of a cold.

Show dogs, dogs who compete in agility or other sports and dogs that go to daycare, kennels, and grooming facilities are at increased risk.

Older, sick (heart or lung disease or immuno-compromised) and puppies are at greater risk.

Dogs traveling to areas of known outbreaks (i.e. Chicago)- see Cornell University map.

As long as good infection control practices are in place, pet owners should not be overly concerned about dogs in our area using training facilities, dog parks, kennels, grooming facilities or other areas frequented by dogs.

What should kennels/groomers do to prevent disease transmission?

Develop disease prevention protocols with the help of their local veterinarians.

Vaccinate against "kennel cough" 2 wks before boarding.

CIV is easily killed by most disinfectants when used properly, therefore disinfect cages, kennels, and feeding utensils appropriately.

Wash hands with soap and water regularly

Isolate symptomatic dogs as quickly as possible

Notify clients of possible exposure

How is canine influenza infection in dogs treated?

Most dogs have mild disease that resolves without treatment. If the cough is disruptive, veterinarians may prescribe cough suppressants. In these cases, antibiotics do not ameliorate the symptoms or shorten the duration of them. No studies support or refute the use of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu.

Severe disease requires intensive care and treatment. Patients may be hospitalized with supportive care (intravenous fluids) and antibiotics to treat secondary infections.

Is there a test for canine influenza?

Most dogs with mild, self resolving disease do not require testing for a specific diagnosis. Testing is usually limited to the more severe cases. Influenza is not clinically distinguishable from other causes of Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC) or more commonly, kennel cough. A full respiratory panel, including tests for canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, canine parainfluenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine pneumovirus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma cynos and influenza may be necessary for diagnosis. More than one pathogen may contribute to the clinical signs.

Is there a vaccine?

Yes, a separate killed vaccine for both strains. H3N8 vax developed in 2009, but is not cross protective to H3N2. A new H3N2 vax developed 4 months ago (not cross protective to H3N8), still in testing.

All influenza viruses (human, horse, pig, bird and dog) frequently change becoming more or less severe and transmitting differently. Human influenza vaccines are changed annually based on circulating strains.

2 vaccines are initially needed for each type to influenza to develop an effective immune response and must be given 2 weeks before potential exposure and every year afterwards.

These vaccines are not 100% effective in preventing disease (may just decrease the severity and/or duration of symptoms) and do not completely stop dogs with the flu from being contagious to others.

Vaccination is currently recommended only for dogs at high risk.

More information on canine influenza in pet dogs can be found on the AVMA website and at cdc.gov