As many as a few dozen dogs in North Carolina have been infected with a new strain of canine influenza.
However, it's hard to say exactly how many because no state agency tracks the disease since it causes no public health risk to humans.
The symptoms of an infection can range from mild, like a runny nose and sneezing, to more severe, like an upper respiratory infection. In rare cases, dogs have died from the flu.
Dr. Brenda Stevens, a professor at the college of veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University, said two dogs have died from the flu in North Carolina this year, and the disease is highly contagious.
"If people have dogs that are visiting high-density dog areas, then I would consider speaking with their veterinarian about having their dog vaccinated for influenza," Stevens said.
High-density dog areas include anywhere that many dogs come into contact with one another: dog parks, daycare facilities, boarding facilities and dog shows. Stevens said it's believed that the flu strain currently in North Carolina was spread from an outbreak at a dog show in Florida.
Humans cannot catch the canine flu, but cats and some other pets are at risk. The canine flu strain currently affecting the state probably evolved from an avian flu strain around 2005. Stevens said that because the virus is relatively new, dogs do not have strong immune defenses against it.
Stevens said that's another reason dog owners may want to consider talking to a veterinarian about vaccination. But ultimately, she said, the risk in North Carolina is still low.
"I don't think we need to panic. I think we need to be prudent and consider it," Stevens said.