Kennels can be hotbeds for the illness
An outbreak of dog flu in Chicago, Illinois continues to plague pet owners there, and new cases have been reported in as many as 10 other states.
Much like influenza in humans, symptoms of the dog flu H3N2 include runny noses, coughing and fever—and in some dogs, even pneumonia and death. The number of dogs affected is impossible to gauge since there’s no organized system for testing and reporting this kind of pet illness, says Edward Dubovi, PhD, professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. There are likely many more than the 1,000 estimated cases in Chicago, he says, since many veterinarians stop sending in samples for testing after they’ve confirmed cases in the neighborhood.
Many of the states to which the virus has spread have seen only one confirmed case, often from a dog that recently visited Chicago. So while it’s not necessarily cause for major alarm, “that’s not to say there isn’t the possibility of independent introduction of this virus in other areas,” Dubovi says.
Humans are not at risk for the disease, but in areas like Illinois where the virus is most problematic, people can take steps to protect their pets from the flu.
Keep your dog out of close quarters. High-population areas like kennels, shelters and doggy daycare centers are hotbeds for the virus. And though we think about flu being a cold-weather disease, the warm weather may actually be part of the problem in this case, since vacationing dog owners often board their dogs in kennels. Dubovi says we need more information before drawing a definitive seasonal link, but just as a crowded plane can expose passengers to human flu, kennels can exposes pets to the virus. When possible, dog owners should try to avoid putting their pets in these cramped conditions in affected areas.
Put Fido on a leash. If dogs in your neighborhood are sick, make sure your pet isn’t able to come into physical contact with them, reports USA TODAY. Vaccination may be a good option, depending on your veterinarian’s advice.
If you’re a veterinarian, practice good hygiene. To protect against spreading the virus from one sick dog in the clinic to other healthy dogs, vets and their staff should be extra vigilant about maintaining clean hands, clothing and equipment. He also advises veterinarians to try to find out where the dog has recently been to help determine how the disease is spreading.
“Unfortunately with influenza virus, you can’t predict what it’s going to do,” Dubovi says. But as people become more cautious, “we may see an end to it,” he says.