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Veterinarians are telling pet owners concerned about dog flu to take steps to protect their pets, but not to panic.

Three cases of the virus that has been crossing the Midwest have been confirmed in Michigan.

"Just because you have a dog that is showing a cough, a little bit of fever — it could have influenza or it could have other infections that could mimic those signs," said Thomas Mullaney, interim director of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation for Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

"There are a lot of commonsense precautions one can take," he added. "Most of the spread from canine influenza comes from dog-to-dog contact. If you take your dogs for walks in the park, limit contact with other dogs."

Making sure your pet is up to date on vaccines is another way to limit illness, others said.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said this week that one case of the canine flu H3N2 strain was reported in Macomb County and two cases in Kent County. The department received notification from a laboratory on May 13, said Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the department. Her office did not know what cities reported cases, she said.

Veterinarians are not required to report the disease, Holton said.

Julie Cappel, a veterinarian with Warren Woods Veterninary Hospital in Warren, said Thursday that her office has received numerous calls from pet owners concerned about their dog's risk of getting the flu.

"We're basically telling them if you take them places with a lot of dogs, their risks are going to be higher," Cappel said.

Pet owners are also asking about the dog flu vaccine, which won't provide complete immunity from the H3N2 strain.

"There may be some cross protection, but we're not really sure," Cappel said. "We're basically telling people if their dog has high exposure, it might be beneficial for them to get the vaccine."

Mullaney said he a laboratory soon could developed a vaccine specifically for the H3N2 virus.

The H3N2 virus is believed to be caused by a viral strain that arose from live bird markets in Asia. Prior to reaching Michigan, the virus spread through other Midwest states including Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

The virus spread in the Midwest just before spring break and Easter, when families kenneled their dogs. The boarded dogs caught the flu from other dogs, leading to the outbreak, said veterinarians.

Some dogs will have a cough, runny nose and develop a fever. In severe cases, pneumonia can develop and can lead to death, experts say.

Dr. Karen Michalski of Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights said in April that pet owners should keep their dogs away from dog parks and avoid kenneling them or placing them in doggie day care until the threat subsides.

Animals can spread the disease up to four weeks after they stop coughing, experts cautioned.

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311

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