I had never heard of dog flu, but apparently it is spreading across the country. This was in today's Chicago Tribune:
Is Rover coughing? It could be dog flu.
Experts urge pet owners to be on the alert now that the disease has been confirmed in Illinois
By Deborah L. Shelton and Kristen Kridel
12:29 AM CDT, June 14, 2008
Ira Alter didn't know dogs could even get the flu.
But blood tests showed that is what struck his 4-year-old yellow Labrador, Buddy, whom Alter took to the emergency veterinarian at 3 a.m. recently when his uncharacteristically lethargic pet was coughing up a storm and spitting out white foam.
"He just looked like he was a sick pup," said Alter, of Logan Square. "I've never seen him like that."
Buddy is among the first documented cases in Illinois of canine influenza or "dog flu," an infectious but treatable disease that was first identified in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004 and has spread to more than 20 states.
Experts said pet owners should be on the alert but not overly alarmed now that the disease has been confirmed in Illinois.
"The fortunate part is that most dogs recover just fine from this influenza, just like most people do," said Dr. Cynda Crawford, a research assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville who has been studying the disease since its emergence.
Canine flu, whose symptoms include a hacking cough, lethargy and vomiting phlegm, can be mistaken for kennel cough. Both conditions affect dogs confined to close quarters, like animal shelters, grooming facilities and day-care centers for dogs. Alter said Buddy got sick three days after his pet had been at a dog day-care center.
The Illinois cases came to light after veterinarians at the Animal Ark Veterinary Clinic saw a spike in the number of dogs—at least 50 or 60—showing symptoms of respiratory infection, said Dr. Derrick Landini, a veterinarian and clinic owner.
Suspecting canine influenza, the staff sent six blood samples to the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University, which confirmed that five contained antibodies to the dog flu virus, said Dr. Edward Dubovi, director of the facility's virology section. Results on one sample has yet to be analyzed, he said.
Hearing about the confirmed cases, Dr. Jeffrey Bloomberg, a veterinarian at the Park Wise Animal Hospital in Schaumburg, said he would be more careful in evaluating coughing dogs brought to his office.
"I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to know which ones are going to get really sick," Bloomberg said. It usually takes at least several dogs falling ill at a clinic before veterinarians become suspicious enough to test, he added.
But testing is a smart idea for dogs with coughs who have spent time in a communal setting like a shelter or day-care center because dog flu symptoms are similar to those caused by other respiratory pathogens, Crawford said.
"You cannot diagnose the cause based on clinical signs alone because it all looks alike," she said.
As a species, dogs have not been exposed to the virus long enough to develop immunity. Most dogs who are exposed will get infected and 80 percent will get sick, Crawford said. Dogs are contagious for 7 to 10 days after infection, whether or not they show symptoms, which can drag on for three weeks.
There is no approved vaccine to prevent canine influenza. Active cases are typically treated with antibiotics meant to ward off secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonia, which can be fatal to puppies, ailing dogs and older dogs. Experts also recommend that pet owners keep coughing dogs away from other dogs.
Patti Colandrea, co-owner of the Bark Bark Club in Chicago, has asked owners not to bring dogs with a cough to her dog day-care center. At least one dog there has been diagnosed with dog flu and at least five other clients have told her their dogs have developed a cough, she said. Two dogs recently were sent home as a precaution to avoid spreading the disease.
"People need to really be aware if they hear their dog cough and pay attention to it," Colandrea said.
The urban environment of Chicago creates perfect breeding grounds for dog flu because of the proliferation of dog day-care centers, grooming parlors and other places where dogs are in close contact.
"Our thinking is that this is probably going to be endemic to Chicago," said Dr. Dylan Frederickson, a Chicago veterinarian. "It's going to be difficult to prevent spread of the disease in a urban setting like Chicago because there is such a high density of animals and so many boarding situations and grooming facilities. People just don't have the luxury of leaving their dogs in their backyards."
Dr. Colleen O'Keefe, division manager for food safety and animal protection for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said people who work with dogs should wash their hands thoroughly and often after handling animals, cages and bowls. Workers should advise pet owners not to bring in dogs with symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, she said.
Illinois is the 27th state with documented cases of the disease and residents should be aware that dogs can be exposed to the virus when they have contact with other dogs, Crawford said. (Canine flu cannot be transmitted to people.)
"It is now a known risk that has to be assumed when they adopt a dog from a shelter or board their dog or take their dog to grooming parlors or veterinarian clinics," she said.
Lakeview resident Debbie Melesio said her golden retrievers Henry and Buster stopped chasing tennis balls and each other and developed a hacking cough about three weeks ago.
Henry got sick first, and Buster fell ill a day later.
"It was visible that they just weren't feeling well," Melesio said. "We thought, 'This isn't normal.' "
Later she learned from Animal Ark that both had tested positive for dog flu.
Scientists have been closely tracking the virus as it moves across the United States, paying particular attention to its evolution, Dubovi said.
"As influenza moves through dog populations, there is the potential for it to mutate, and we don't know which way it could go," he said. "It could become less of a problem and disappear or become more serious. Nature is directing which way this is going; we're only trying to catch up and monitor what's going on."
Mom to Scout (Havanese) and Roxy (Golden Retriever), three kids, and assorted other animals