Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of months all you dog owners already know about the Canine Influenza (AKA Dog Flu) outbreak. It’s a disease that has emerged in recent months from kennels and shelters across the US. While its origins are still speculative, its potential for epidemic status is not.

Airborne and sometimes deadly, this virus closely resembles kennel cough (a bacterial infection) in its initial stages. Coughing and nasal discharge, often accompanied by a fever, are the non-specific hallmarks of this disease. Unlike kennel cough, infected dogs show little response to antibiotics and, reportedly, up to 20% of them eventually die.

Although I’m skeptical of the Flu’s high mortality rate (most reporting comes from public shelters where dogs routinely suffer from a variety of illnesses and are likelier to succumb to any virus), there’s no doubt as to its capacity for causing severe disease.

Now confirmed in 22 states, the Dog Flu is rapidly gaining ground and is now thought to be more widespread than previously believed. Shelters and kennels may be its principal breeding ground (as the airborne virus spreads quickly in close quarters) yet infectious disease specialists have put vets on the lookout for respiratory disease in all dogs. They have repeatedly stated that this is not a disease of dirty shelters. This can happen anywhere.

Just as with the parvovirus epidemic in the 1980`s, the dog flu is not to be underestimated. It’s poised to make a big splash in the dog boarding industry and among shelters across the country. And if it makes the rounds of these effectively enough, there’s no telling which dog park or vet hospital might be next.

For my part, I’m taking precautionary steps with all dogs showing upper respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, wheezing). At a minimum, they get a CBC along with any antibiotic therapy I might prescribe. Owners are informed about the flu and are asked to isolate their pets for at least seven days—a tall order for some, I know.

Your best bet on prevention for now? Keep your dog away from boarding kennels. Remain vigilant for any respiratory changes in your pet and any others you might see at a dog park, for example.

I’ll keep you posted.