Flu Epidemic Killing Dogs


A influenza epidemic is killing dogs and raising concerns and fears of the canine flu in the Chicago, Ill., area. Since early this year, the flu virus has sickened more than 1,000 dogs and the numbers of sick dogs being taken to veterinarians in the region are increasing. So far, five dogs have succumbed from complications.

Officials warned on Friday that given the known numbers of canine influenza cases, the outbreak could last for several weeks. While the virus is very contagious to dogs, they report that it is not contagious for their human companions or other types of pets. However, humans who touch the virus on surfaces or come into contact with sick dogs can transmit the disease to other healthy dogs. Clothes, surfaces and hands need to be thoroughly washed if they are exposed to a dog with signs of the illness.

This is not the first outbreak of canine virus the area has seen, but authorities are already saying it is the worst. As a result, they are encouraging owners to keep their dogs away from others. No more doggy social functions, play dates, doggy day care visits or even dog walkers taking several at one time. They are also basically saying that the highly contagious disease needs to be brought under control, and people should avoid exposing their dog to any others for now.

Canine flu symptoms are typically a persistent cough (similar to Kennel cough), fever, lack of appetite and runny nose. Some dogs seem lethargic or depressed. Just like in humans, the flu is more severe for young dogs under age 1 and seniors, as well as those with compromised immune systems. Dogs may seem fine, but can be contagious before they show symptoms.

Vets believe the rapid spread of the canine influenza in the past few weeks is due to the higher amount of dogs boarding over spring break as well as the number of dogs going to doggie day cares now. As Jerry Klein, supervising veterinarian at Chicago Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center, told media, “We don’t typically see such a large number of cases, and some of these cases are so severe that they require hospitalization.”

So several companies are taking action to protect their “customers.” PetSmart, for example, is closing its three Chicago-region boarding centers. Their PetsHotels are asking owners to come get their pets. If they are unable to, PetSmart is transferring the remaining dogs to other facilities. The company is not taking new reservations for dogs at the locations and will be thoroughly disinfecting them.

The Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control administrator, Donna Alexander, urged dogs owners to take their pet to the vet immediately if symptoms appear. The virus is treatable with fluids and medications.

There is a vaccine for the canine influenza, which has only been affecting dogs for 10 years. It was the equine flu virus affecting horses for decades. However, scientists believe it jumped species in 2004, when an unknown respiratory illness appeared in some dogs. Tests revealed it to be a lineage of the equine virus. That horse virus is now common in dogs, although the flu epidemic killing pets in Chicago is believed to be one of the worst outbreaks to date.

By Dyanne Weiss

Chicago Tribune
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Post Pioneer
NBC Chicago