People planning trips into metropolitan areas of California with their dogs are advised to get their pets inoculated against a new strain of canine influenza that’s slowly making its way north.
According to Jessie Holly, a veterinarian at Town and Country Animal Clinic, dog flu hasn’t been seen here yet but will likely be in Curry County this spring.
Hundreds of dogs have been diagnosed with the virus in California since the beginning of the year, according to John Jacobson, a veterinarian at Town and Country and news reports in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. It is believed the highly contagious influenza was brought west with dogs rescued from Hurricane Harvey in Texas last August.
In California, some clinics and kennels have shut down to prevent the spread, and triage tents are being set up outside to inoculate pets.
Jacobson learned about the flu and the inoculation during a meeting sponsored by Merck, a major international pharmaceutical company.
“At first, they only recommended (the inoculation) for (dogs) traveling into California and back,” Holly said, “but now they said we should vaccinate every dog.”
Symptoms include a cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and reduced appetite, but not all dogs will show signs of illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The severity of illness associated with canine flu in dogs can range from no signs to severe illness resulting in pneumonia and rarely, death.
It started in the San Francisco area, spread to Reno and Santa Rosa, California.
And it’s spreading fast, Jacobsen said. Reno reported cases Jan. 30 and eight days later, California veterinarians were seeing seven to 10 cases a day — 50 cases in one practice over a weekend.
“Will it get here?” Jacobson said. “I think it probably will. It’s just a matter of time. And if we wait until it shows up here, we can’t get the protection (to the dogs) fast enough.”
Veterinarian Jeff Tribble of Brookings-Harbor Veterinary Clinic in Harbor says it’s no cause for alarm.
“It’s a little overblown,” he said. “There was another outbreak in 2015; we never saw it here. Everyone got all up in arms about it — we’re getting about 14 calls a day now — but until we see the potential of it coming here, we’re not vaccinating for it.”
Jacobsen said a similar virus, H3N8, has been around for awhile.
“The big difference is that H3N8 doesn’t survive outside the dog as long — seven to 10 days,” Jacobson said. “The one we’re dealing with can be on the dog 24 days after they’ve been infected, so there’s three times as much potential to spread it.”
The vaccine protects the lungs, he said, which when infected, can kill the animal.
Tribble said he is “pretty conservative about the use of vaccines,” too.
“It’s not life-threatening, and it’s unlikely to see it come into Curry County at all,” he said. “It’s like a cold, and only four states are even reporting it. It’s usually in highly-concentrated metropolitan areas where dogs are coming in from all over the country. We’re not getting excited about it.”
He agrees, however, that people planning trips to metropolitan areas in California might consider inoculating their dogs.
“If going to the Bay area, yeah, maybe, sure,” he said. “But it’s like a young healthy person in rural Oregon getting a flu vaccine for something they’re not going to be exposed to.”
He said the American Veterinary Medical Association said they don’t want people to panic.
“These flare up, like the flu in people, and die out in a matter of few months,” Tribble said.
Dogs that do get it typically recover within two to three weeks, but some might develop secondary bacterial infections that can lead to more severe illness and pneumonia.
The virus can prove deadly to older dogs, puppies and those with a compromised immune system. Innoculation requires a second, booster shot two weeks later.
Canine influenza — H3N8 and H3N2 — is primarily a respiratory disease and, while highly contagious, cannot be contracted by humans.
It was first recognized in horses before it spread to dogs. Horse flu has been around for more than 40 years, but in 2004, cases of an unknown respiratory illness were starting to be seen in greyhounds in the U.S. In 2005, the virus was identified as a “newly emerging pathogen in the dog population” in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Like many viruses, the flu is more easily transmitted when dogs are in tighter quarters, such as boarding or daycare facilities.
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .