Sick as a dog: Vets urge vaccination as boro’s canine-flu cases grow

Sick as a dog: A new strain of canine flu spreading among local pups will only get worse before it gets better, according to local veterinarians.
Brooklyn Daily
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This virus is going to the dogs.

A strain of canine influenza that’s infected more than a dozen Kings County canines in recent weeks will only get worse before it gets better, according to a city vet.

“It’s a new virus, so there’s no natural immunities to this,” said Doctor Yasmine Mortsakis, who runs New York Veterinary Practice. “More dogs are going to get sick.”

The H3N2 strain first sprung up stateside three years ago in Chicago, where it struck more than 1,000 pooches that fell ill with symptoms two-legged flu victims would find familiar, including fever, runny nose, and a heavy cough.

And after lingering in the heartland for a spell, Mortsakis said H3N2 — a strain humans cannot catch — landed in Brooklyn on April 30, when the first hapless hound tested positive for the strain before spreading it to 13 others in a matter of weeks.

“The amount of infected dogs is rising pretty rapidly,” she said.

Canine influenza is airborne, and seasonal in the sense that it commonly spreads during warm weather as people spend more time outdoors with their pups, according to Mortakis, who implored the owners of mutts that have socialized with other furballs to get the beasts vaccinated.

“The more sociable dogs are, the more likely they are to interact with others that may have communicable diseases,” the vet said. “Any dog that goes to day care or a park, or dogs that are walked in group environments, should get vaccinated for sure.”

But dog flu is rarely deadly — although it can be among puppies or older pooches, which are more likely to develop pneumonia after contracting the virus, Mortsakis said. Flat-nosed canines such as pugs and bulldogs also have a harder time fending off influenza due to pre-existing respiratory issues common in certain breeds.

And fortunately, pups can get flu shots from vets that effectively immunize them against the disease — just like those annual inoculations for people — but the big question is will they. One dog owner out for a walk in Brooklyn Bridge Park with her cocker-spaniel mix questioned whether the vaccine is really necessary.

“It’s hard to know when they’re trying to sell you something and when it’s actually real,” said Marcella, a Dumbo resident who refused to give her last name.

But the father of another furball from Brooklyn Heights said the shot is a no-brainer given how prevalent pooches are in the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of dogs in the area and they’re all very interactive,” said Matt Stanley, the proud dad of a black lab. “Keeping my dog safe is a priority.”

And many canine-service providers such as dog walkers require pups to be up to date with vaccinations, including the flu shot, before stepping out with new clients, according to a professional walker leading a pack of canines through Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“They’re not allowed to join our company if they don’t have their vaccinatio­ns,” said Cristal Diaz.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 1:34 am, July 10, 2018
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