Clearing Up Info on the New Dog Flu

Recent news surfaced about a new strain of influenza in dogs,
and with it comes a flurry of rumors and misinformation. Internet
chat rooms have been buzzing with stories about the presumed
seriousness of this bug that many call the canine flu.
Recent news surfaced about a new strain of influenza in dogs, and with it comes a flurry of rumors and misinformation. Internet chat rooms have been buzzing with stories about the presumed seriousness of this bug that many call the canine flu. Unfortunately, some people are telling exaggerated stories that can sometimes be misconstrued as fact by the general public.

Too little is known about this virus, but it appears to be a mutation of the virus that causes influenza in horses. Any new infection like this prompts worry and anxiety.

Dog flu first appeared as an unusual respiratory illness in some racing greyhounds in Florida last year. Since then, it’s shown up at several other racetracks across the country, and has infected dogs in at least eight states, including an outbreak in Southern California this past summer. Veterinarians are being advised to be on the alert for any suspicious cases.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, an immunologist at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, states that the disease is only deadly in rare cases. But it is cause for concern because of its ability to spread.

Most infected animals recover without treatment while some require the same treatment people with viral infections need (i.e. plenty of fluids and rest). In severe cases, dogs may need intravenous fluids and antibiotics to fight secondary infections. There are no antiviral agents specifically effective against this virus. Efforts are under way already to develop a vaccine.

Dr. Christopher Olsen, a professor of public health at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said that the fatality rate may be between 1 and 5 percent of all dogs that become infected. This includes young puppies that have an immature immune system and are, therefore, more susceptible to complications.

Olsen and others are reluctant to state whether this virus has a real epidemic potential. It’s hard to tell whether the virus will become common among dogs over time or if it might “burn itself out.” In the Southern California outbreak, a cluster of dogs became seriously ill and then the problem seemed to dissipate quickly. One veterinarian described the infection as being like a firestorm. It quickly came and went away almost as fast.

So how can you tell if your dog has been infected by the flu virus? Symptoms include a harsh dry cough, a high fever up to 106 degrees or more, a runny nose and lack of energy. Needless to say, if your pooch shows any of these symptoms, he should be checked by his veterinarian.

A more broad concern is that this virus has crossed species lines. An equine infection now affects canines. And dogs have little or no immunity to it. This phenomena is strikingly similar to the appearance of the avian flu virus in humans. Experts know that virus mutations can become serious public health threats. The new canine flu virus has not shown any tendencies to infect people as yet. But some believe it could, and the ramifications of that type of infection would be wide-reaching.

For the moment, it appears that the dog flu virus isn’t nearly as bad as some of the stories circulating on the ‘Net. It doesn’t look like it represents the next epidemic to strike dogs.

It isn’t like the late 70’s when parvovirus first swept across our country. That virus had a much more rapid and aggressive appearance. The infection and mortality rates were much higher then. But the unknown has all of us waiting and watching as more information becomes available. How bad is it? We just don’t know yet.

Certainly we can’t ignore the dog flu virus. And certainly there will be lots of news coming from the larger veterinary teaching hospitals in the country as further information becomes available. For now, vigilance is the key. Keep your dog away from strange dogs that might carry the virus.

Dogs should still be able to play with their friends and maintain their regular routine. But be careful. Be vigilant. If your dog shows any symptoms of respiratory illness, call his vet right away.

Q: I always feel so badly when I leave my cat, Bally, for the day and go to work. Does he realize how long I’m gone? He is always so anxious to greet me when I get home that it makes me believe he thinks I am gone away too long.

A: No doubt Bally misses you when you to go to work … at least for a little while. But I’d be willing to bet that separation upsets him a lot less than you think. Consider what he does when you stay home from work. How does he spend his day?

My guess is that the majority of the time, he curls up on his … or your bed. I know that’s what our cats, Rumpy and Janey, do. They have all kinds of neat toys, but they like to spend most of their time sleeping on a chair or on our bed.

Dogs can be a bit different, depending on breed and bloodlines. Some very active dogs require more supervision than do others. Separation anxiety can turn these dogs into destructive chewers. But cats are different. They know better how to pass idle time.

I’d recommend that you give Bally some toys to play with during the day, but don’t be surprised to find them untouched when you return from work. Rumpy and Janey rarely play with their toys while we are gone from the house. When I come home, they greet me the same way your little guy does. Rumpy sits in my lap as I read the day’s mail. Then, he moves to his food bowl to give me the signal it’s dinnertime! After a good meal and a little playtime with Janey, it’s back to snoozing all over again.

Separation anxiety in cats is rare. That’s because they have a great way to deal with a quiet day around the house. They just take a longer nap!

Pete Keesling is a veterinarian at San Martin Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts Petpourri, a weekly show about pet health on KTEH in San Jose and a bi-weekly column for South Valley Newspapers. If you have any questions about pet care, please mail them to Vets, 30 E. Third St., Morgan Hill, Calif. 95037.

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