Metro-East News

Local veterinarians on the lookout for highly contagious canine flu

Veterinarians and kennel owners in the metro-east are keeping a wary eye out for canine influenza, a highly contagious virus that has quickly sickened hundreds of dogs in the Midwest.

The H3N2 virus is in Chicago, and has struck more than 1,000 dogs and killed at least six. There is no evidence the virus can be transmitted to people, but the American Veterinary Medical Association says it has been transmitted to at least one cat.

Veterinarians are recommending the vaccine that is meant for a different strain of the virus, although the veterinary association says “it is not yet known” whether the vaccination provides immunity. It requires a booster shot after a month.

“We are recommending that vaccine for the dogs that are going to be exposed to other dogs,” says Dr. Janet Linton of the Belleville Animal Clinic. Her clinic charges $31 for each of the two shots.

Linton said there are no suspected cases that she knows of in the metro-east, but Chicago reported 83 cases on April 3. By last week, that number was more than 1,000. Cases are reported in more than 30 states, Linton said.

Area kennels contacted are not yet requiring the vaccine to board animals, although at least one is considering it.

“It’s a tough call right now,” said Michelle Parker, of Spencer Kennel in O’Fallon.

“We have so many customers who have already reserved kennels” without a vaccination requirement, she said, and they are typically at full capacity between the Easter and Labor Day holidays.

For it to hit at this time of year is bad, she said. “Why couldn’t this happen in January, when nobody’s going anywhere?”

Linton says that when the virus was discovered in Chicago, they started recommending that owners not travel with their dogs to that city. “With people traveling with their pets so much, that’s how this stuff spreads,” Parker said.

This strain of canine flu appears to have started at a greyhound park in Florida.

The spread reminds Parker of another illness. “Two years ago they had a terrible case of kennel cough in California, and it moved this way,” she said.

Linton has been recommending the vaccine to dog owners since word of the outbreak came out in early April. She has vaccinated at least 50 dogs, and said some kennels and groomers are requiring the vaccination before the pets are allowed in.

The AVMA’s guide for pet owners says a cough from the canine flu sounds a lot like the cough from kennel cough. Infected dogs may have a thick nasal discharge and fever. Other signs can include lethargy, eye discharge, reduced appetite, and low-grade fever. They say most dogs recover in two to three weeks.

Linton said antibiotics are not effective because the flu is a virus, but secondary antibiotics can prevent further infection and medications are available to alleviate the dog’s suffering. She said “immune-comprismised animals will definitely have a harder time,” but regular disinfectants do kill the virus outside of the body.