For many pet owners, ensuring the health and happiness of their animals is of utmost importance. Part of taking care of a pet includes being educated about potential viruses and how to prevent/treat them. One viral infection that affects dogs and cats is canine influenza and it's highly contagious.

According to veterinary technician, Ericka Stoltenberg from Lakes Veterinary Hospital in Battle Lake, pets in the area can definitely be affected by canine influenza and it is easy to spread.

There are two strains of canine influenza, H3N8 and H3N2. According to a fact sheet provided by Lakes Veterinary Hospital, canine influenza can spread from coughing, barking and sneezing. The incubation period of this viral infection takes from one to five days and symptoms will appear two to three days after exposure.

"Canine influenza can be contracted any time of the year," Stoltenberg said. "Dogs at risk are going to dog parks or traveling - we see a lot of canine influenza in the southern states."

According to the fact sheet and Stoltenberg, dogs are also at an increased risk if they are going to the kennels, groomers, daycare facilities or shelters. For these situations, Stoltenberg recommends dogs get vaccinated. Veterinarians can administer a vaccine such as Nobivac Canine Flu Bivalent by Merck to reduce the risk of disease or the severity of an infection.

When a dog or cat has canine influenza, a series of symptoms will follow. Stoltenberg said dogs will have a persistent cough for 10-21 days, despite treatment with antibiotics and cough suppressants. They can also have a soft, moist cough or a dry cough that is similar to kennel cough. Sneezing, lethargy, resistance to eating and a fever are also common symptoms in dogs.

For cats infected with canine influenza, common symptoms are nasal discharge, congestions, malaise, lip-smacking and excessive salivation.

If a pet owner thinks their dog or cat may have canine influenza, Stoltenberg said the veterinarian clinic will run a test specifically for identifying the viral infection.

If a pet is diagnosed with canine influenza, Stoltenberg said treatment can include isolation, antimicrobials, anti-inflammatory medication and fluids.

"Most dogs usually recover in two to three weeks once starting treatment," Stoltenberg said.

Although Lakes Veterinary Hospital has not diagnosed any dogs or cats with canine influenza this year, it is important for pet owners in all areas to be aware of.

"Eighty percent of dogs exposed to it will develop signs of canine influenza," Stoltenberg said.