The New Dog Flu – What You Really Need To Know

By now you’ve probably heard about the brand new H3N2 strain of dog flu that has swept through Chicago, sickening and killing dogs. Halo’s own veterinary expert, Dr. Donna Spector, happens to practice in Chicago, where she is a board certified internist so I asked for her help in giving us reliable, up-to-date information. She generously got out of her own sickbed with the (human) flu to record a special edition of our show THE EXPERT VET. What is actually known at this point is that over 1,000 cases of this flu have been officially reported, but Dr. Donna points out that is likely only a fraction of the actual cases because not all vet clinics take the time to make reports — most are too busy trying to deal with the overload of sick animals seeking care. Five dogs are reported to have died from this flu, but that number, too, is probably under-reported.

Many doggy daycare and boarding facilities in and around the Chicago area are closed down — dogs in close proximity to each other are the ones at risk of passing the disease, which is what happened with racing Greyhounds in Florida with a known strain of dog flu—H3N8—for which a vaccine was developed, but which likely offers no protection against this newly identified virus. In the podcast Dr. Donna cautions that this dog flu is so contagious that if you have a sick dog you should not even walk or carry your dog into a vet’s office in order to minimize exposure to other dogs and cats (yes, this virus is capable of infecting cats as well!). It is advised to keep your dog in your car until the clinic staff directs you further. Many vet clinics evaluate and treat affected dogs only in an isolation area or an area specifically set aside for dogs with flu.

Originally an avian flu, this strain now infects dogs — and cats

We do not want to cause panic or unnecessary paranoia, but given the severity of this flu I feel an obligation to give an accurate picture of the seriousness of this outbreak and what we each can do to protect ourselves, our dogs and the larger community. This flu is way worse than just a “dog cold.” Since the outbreak happened, round-the-clock testing by scientists at many universities, The National Veterinary Services Laboratories and the CDC has unveiled that this heretofore unknown canine influenza was originally an avian flu that has been infecting dogs (and cats, Dr. Donna tells us) in Asia since 2007. Now it has traveled here to the epicenter of the U.S. Will it sweep across the country and endanger dogs everywhere?

The bigger issue, which is why the Centers for Disease Control is involved, is whether humans will eventually be at risk from this flu — given that influenza outbreaks in the human population can be deadly to the very young and the very old. The disturbing fact is that this flu has already transformed and made a “mammalian adaptation:” it went from infecting birds to causing the virus in mammals. Will this deadly flu become like the previous avian (bird) flu in Asia and the swine flu in England? If you recall, both of those animal illnesses did transform into sickness that could affect people and resulted in the slaughter of millions of chickens and ducks in China and millions of pigs in England and elsewhere.

Please do listen to the special dog flu podcast we made for you at Radio Pet Lady Network.

—Tracie Hotchner

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photo credit: Brave dog back from vet… via photopin (license)