The Washington D.C. area recently saw an outbreak of dog flu, which served as a reminder of the importance communication between pet owners and veterinary professionals is.

“Washington area residents should contact their veterinarians if they notice their dogs showing respiratory symptoms such as coughing, runny nose and fever,” said Barry Kellogg, VMD, senior veterinary medical advisor for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. “They may also want to inquire if it’s appropriate to vaccinate their dogs. Vaccination can reduce the susceptibility and severity of the disease if they do become exposed.”

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association cautions dog owners in the area to be on the lookout for signs of the highly contagious disease, which can cause an acute respiratory infection. If those signs are spotted, dog owners are encouraged to speak to a veterinary professional.

Veterinary assistants work closely with pets and their owners, and it is an important part of a veterinary assistant’s job to look for signs of sickness in an animal and to discuss those signs with the pet owner.

However, the Humane Society says that most dogs who contract the flu are at a low risk for seeing serious complications, especially if they can be treated.

“The number of dogs infected with this disease becoming seriously ill is very small (less than eight percent) and the virus can’t be passed to humans, but in rare cases it can cause onset of pneumonia in affected dogs,” Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association says. “As with any disease outbreak, it is wise to avoid places where dogs congregate, such as dog parks. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the so-called dog flu can be spread by direct contact with infected dogs, contaminated objects and through people moving between infected and uninfected dogs.”