By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4)– A dangerous strain of dog flu is spreading across the West.

Health officials in Washington state believe nearly 90 dogs could have been exposed to dog flu at a kennel in Seattle. A dog in Montana recently tested positive for the strain. Veterinarians are warning dog owners to look for signs their dogs might be sick.

“You will see coughing, it’s similar to kennel cough. They may stop eating,” said Dr. Julie Smith.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The virus is rarely fatal but the virus can spread rapidly where it hasn’t been before. Puppies and older dogs are the most vulnerable. A vaccine was made available in November 2015 but vets believe the vaccine may not fully protect against the newest strain.

“I know she’s up to date on all the vaccines the vet wants her to have but if the vet doesn’t know about this thing,” said Ayla Peacock, a dog owner who didn’t know her family pet could even get the flu.

The virus is spread by direct contact. Dog parks and kennels present the greatest opportunity for dogs to get sick.

“It’s definitely a gamble at a dog park because there are no requirements for vaccines. You don’t know where they’ve been,” said Smith.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

But pet care professionals say kennels and dog parks do not need to be avoided completely, as long as owners are watching for the signs of a sick dog.

“If they’re in the lobby and they’re not looking good or not acting normal we’ll talk to the parents and say it’s best they don’t come in today,” said Melissa Babich, owner of BARK! Daycare in Denver.

Ten years ago an outbreak of dog flu shut down a number of kennels in Denver for a week. Babich said the industry has learned to scrub thoroughly so the virus can’t fester and to isolate dog that appear to get sick.

CBS4's Stan Bush interviews Melissa Babich, owner of BARK! (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Stan Bush interviews Melissa Babich, owner of BARK! (credit: CBS)

“The biggest thing is to make sure they’re vaccinated properly and are current and if there’s anything odd or strange to be on alert,” said Babich.

Nearly 2,000 dogs have gotten sick in 24 states over the last year.

Humans can’t contract the virus, but they could spread it to healthy dogs after close contact with an infected dog.

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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