BOSTON (CBS) – The state’s Division of Animal Health says that for the first time, a cluster of dog flu cases has been found in Massachusetts outside of dog racing tracks.

The warning effects just Essex county, and even there, officials advice pet owners to learn the facts and not panic.

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Chris Tello says that a week ago he was very worried about 4-month-old Diesel, a boxer.

“On a scale of one to 10, he was a 10,” Tello said.

“I noticed he was having a hard time breathing, coughing, hacking,” he recalled.

Tello brought Diesel to his veterinarian, Dr. Heidi Bassler, at the Bassler Veterinary Hospital in Salisbury.  She diagnosed canine influenza.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Laurie Kirby reports

Bassler and other vets in the area are beginning to see suspected cases.

“They are coughing,  depressed, lethargic, nasal discharge, they can have a fever,” she said.

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At the beginning of May the state issued an alert after finding four cases of dog flu in Essex County.  The alert suggests dog owners there talk to their veterinarians, especially about dogs that stay in kennels or go to doggie daycare.

“Any dogs that are in contact with other dogs are at greater risk,” Bassler explained.

At Paws 4 Play daycare in Salisbury, they now require that dogs get the dog flu vaccine, especially since most dogs haven’t been exposed before and therefore haven’t built up an immunity.

“The canine influenza hasn’t been introduced to this region before, so it’s just a very high likelihood of dogs catching it and carrying it if they are exposed, and we’re trying to get ahead of that,” said Doug Wynne, of Paws 4 Play.

“This is now a new concern, a new potential concern for dog owners, especially for dogs that are in our neighborhood,” said Bassler.

She took care of Diesel and today he’s fine.  “He’s back to himself,” Tello said.

The vaccine costs from $50 to $100 for two shots and yearly boosters are needed after that.  It will not completely protect a dog, but should reduce the length and severity of the illness.

Canine influenza is still very rare in Massachusetts.  The MSPCA does not suggest that all dogs be immunized.  As with any medical issue, dog owners should talk to their veterinarian.

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