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Ten Lessons I Hope Every Pet Owner Learned from the Chicago Canine Influenza Outbreak

04/17/2015 04:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

1. Establish a relationship with your veterinarian. When your pet is ill, you want to be able to call your veterinarian and schedule an examination appointment as soon as possible. During this Chicago Canine Influenza crisis, no current Animal Medical Center of Chicago client was ever told that we would not see his/her coughing pet the same day. We saw over one hundred respiratory cases in the last 3 weeks.

2. Don't choose a veterinarian based on cost alone. Choose a veterinarian that is knowledgeable and attentive to your concerns. When your pet is sick, you want your veterinarian to diagnosis and treat your pet quickly and successfully. At my practice, every Canine Influenza patient we treated survived.

3. Don't share dishes. Don't allow your pet to drink out of communal water bowls in front of well-intentioned restaurants and store fronts. These communal bowls are potential cesspools that could make your pet sick. Additionally, don't let your pet eat out of the open cookie or food bins at pet stores that are strategically positioned for their taking. Other dogs, most likely, have been grazing there too!

4. Spray forward. If you and your infectious pet are riding in an elevator, as you depart the cab spray the inside with an aerosol disinfectant. If you're walking down an apartment hallway, use an aerosol disinfectant spray to minimize spread of this viral disease. Canine Influenza virus is easily destroyed by most disinfectants. At Animal Medical Center of Chicago, we have gone through dozens of containers of Lysol Disinfectant spray during these past few weeks.

5. Think twice before taking your pet to high-density pet areas where there is a high probability of being exposed to an infectious disease. Are you willing to take this risk?

6. Make sure your boarding, daycare or training facility is clean and insures only healthy and vaccinated pets enter the facility. I think it is imperative that these facilities require a biannual medical release from their veterinarian for entry.

7. Keep pets current on vaccines to reduce the likelihood of acquiring an infectious disease. Ask your veterinarian what vaccines would be best for your pet based on his/her lifestyle. Don't ask the clerk at the pet store or your dog walker which vaccines your pet should have. Would you ever ask the cashier at your grocery store what vaccines you should give your child?

8. Contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if your pet is ill. Waiting a few days to see if your ill pet may recover on his/her own is not always wise. Within 24 hours, dogs with Canine Influenza can rapidly progress from dogs with simple runny noses to dogs with severe difficulties breathing and high fevers. I strongly believe my clients' early recognition of their pet's ill heath and seeking immediate medical care saved their pets' lives.

9. It's never a good idea to take a puppy that has not completed his/her vaccine series to a pet store, dog friendly park, grooming parlor, daycare or boarding facility. The chances are high that this puppy could get sick from spending time there. I recommend minimizing a puppy's exposure to infectious agents until 10-14 days after their last immunization date.

10. Wash your hands after petting other dogs to minimize transmission of this invisible viral disease to your pet.

Hands down, this was the worst infectious outbreak in my 29-year veterinary career. I want to congratulate the Chicago pet owners for listening to our professional advice and being so proactive with their pet's health. I believe their willingness to keep their pets isolated from other dogs definitely saved pet's lives and reduced the number of ill pets. Great doctor and client collaboration!

Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to doctors@animalmedicalcenterofchicago.com.