Accompanying the flurries, crisp air and early dusk are the fever, aches and chills that herald another flu season.
As you scramble to get your loved ones vaccinated, consider that there's a contagious respiratory disease that can creep up on your dog: the canine influenza, aka dog flu.
You may not have heard of it before since it's relatively new. In fact, it wasn't until recently that the first-ever dog flu shot, called Nobivac, was approved by the USDA. It's not among the vaccines deemed core by the American Animal Hospital Association.
But is it worth having your dog get the canine flu vaccine? Here are some facts:
New Canine Flu
In 2004, cases of an unknown respiratory illness were reported in greyhounds sharing a racetrack with horses. The culprit was the equine influenza A H3N8 virus, which jumped species and adapted to cause illness in, and spread among, dogs.
Today dog flu is believed to be in every state, according to Dr. Ronald Schultz, professor and chair of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. Since it's so new, the vast majority of dogs are immunologically naive. "But we don't have a good handle on the percentage of dogs infected," Dr. Schultz said.
Signs of Dog Flu
A moist cough, low-grade fever, nasal discharge and a loss of appetite are indicators that your dog might have canine flu.
Breeds like pugs, Boston terriers and bulldogs are more susceptible to the disease due to their flat-nosed facial anatomy.
Very young dogs and very old may also be at greater risk of coming down with dog flu. If your canine is infected, don't panic since the mortality rate is relatively small at less than 5%, according to Dr. Derrick Landini of the Animal Ark Veterinary Clinic in Chicago. Plus, the disease is contained to dogs so you and your cats aren't at risk.
To Get a Canine Flu Vaccine or Not?
It all depends on your pooch's lifestyle Dr. Landini said. Unlike the flu viruses to which humans are susceptible, there is no seasonality to the canine flu. But dogs are like their people parents, in that they get sick when sharing close quarters. They're most susceptible when greeting dogs nose-to-nose at the dog park, in a boarding facility or even at the vet's office -- any place where dogs socialize.
That's why Dr. Schultz recommends the vaccine be used with "dogs that go to kennels, doggie day care, dog training class and dog shows."
Where is Canine Flu?
Geography should factor into your decision about whether or not to get the canine flue vaccine.
Dog flu has been prevalent in some Colorado, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania communities. "If you were to come to me and say 'I have Fido here and we're moving to New York and he'll be going to the dog park I'd say, 'Absolutely that dog would be a good candidate for the vaccine,'" said Dr. Landini.
Is the Price of a Dog Flu Shot Right?
The cost of the vaccine falls into the $25 to $35 range.
"It's not a $10 Walgreens vaccine, but it's not terrible," noted Dr. Landini.
It does, however, require two visits, two to four weeks apart. Dr. Schultz estimates that about one-in-four vets currently use the vaccine, but the numbers could grow. It's also worth noting that if you choose to inoculate you may have to vaccinate annually, but Dr. Schultz said it's too soon to tell. His own pups will be spared the shot since Dr. Schultz takes "the fewer the vaccinations, the better" stance.
If you decide to follow Dr. Schultz's lead and bypass the vaccination, you're not defenseless, noted alternative veterinarian and author of The Pet Whisperer, Dr. Stephen Blake.
He's not a fan of vaccines since they carry risks to the recipient. He advocates a more natural approach.
"It would make more sense to say 'What can we do to make the patient strong and healthy enough so that when it's challenged with something, its immune system can take care of itself?" he said.
Dr. Blake stands behind natural pet care basics including the avoidance of chemicals, toxins, pharmaceuticals and vaccines (including a canine flu vaccine) and boosting health through proper species-specific feeding, plus rest, sunshine, clean water and possible supplementation.