A highly contagious strain of dog flu has been found in Texas. Veterinarians across the state are warning pet owners to be cautious as the virus continues to spread nationwide.
According to local Dallas, Texas station CBS 11, one dog in Austin has been diagnosed with the H3N2 virus. Meanwhile, Texas vets are on increased alert for new cases.
The strain, known as H3N2, has sickened at least 2,000 dogs in 40 states since last spring. The virus was first detected around April of last year in Chicago after 1,000 dogs became ill. While it is not known how the flu got into the U.S., experts believe H3N2 is a mutation of a similar strain that caused an outbreak in Asia several years ago.
The influenza virus spreads through direct contact and moves very quickly within a local dog population. Once the dog flu gets a foothold in a community, there is a high risk of continued transmission.
“It starts and it will move through an area like wildfire. It gets into the kennels, rescues and shelters,” said Texas Veterinarian Dr. Luann Ervin. “These places can certainly be a problem because they house a large number of dogs. So these symptoms get going and before you realize you’ve got something, you have 10 or 12 dogs that have it.”
Last month, several dogs became ill after staying at Holiday Kennels in Kent, Washington. As reported by the Seattle Times and announced by Public Health – Seattle & King County, officials on Friday confirmed two of the dogs tested positive for the H3N2 virus.
Both dogs have since recovered and no other cases have been verified in the state as of late. The kennel closed for several days as the facility was cleaned and disinfected, while an investigation was conducted by government regulators.
Symptoms of canine flu include coughing, runny nose, lack of appetite, and fever. Dogs affected by the virus usually recover without any additional problems within 10 days, but the illness could get worse if left untreated.
Dogs with other health problems are especially vulnerable to the bug. Vets estimate up to two percent of dogs die of complications from the infection.
“It usually starts with sneezing. Nasal discharge. The hallmark feature of it is that they have a very significant cough such that it keeps the owners up at night and it makes the dogs gag they cough so much,” says Veterinarian Dr. Val Hartwick. “Dogs that travel, especially to metropolitan areas, those dogs are at risk.”
The symptoms are often confused with other dog ailments like kennel cough or Bordetella. A dog could also have another, more common strain of flu identified as H3N8, which has been around for quite some time. Most kennels require vaccination against this strain prior to boarding an animal.
To prevent your canine from getting dog influenza, it is important to keep them away from other dogs, especially strays. All dogs are susceptible to the virus and symptoms often do not show up for several days.
“[The flu] has accelerated recently simply because it’s flu season. With the cold weather and the dogs being in and out, they get warm inside and then they go outside and come back in. Their immune system gets a little bit taxed and then the flu can take advantage of that.” said Dr. Ervin.
While often confused with an H3N2 virus that does affect humans, this particular dog flu strain is not contagious to people. However, the virus can be transferred to an unsuspecting pup from a person’s clothing and can infect other pets like cats, ferrets and guinea pigs.
While an H3N2 dog flu vaccine is available, many vets do not normally carry it on hand. Should a pet parent notice any symptoms of the virus, it is recommended the dog be taken in for a check-up just in case. Early detection of the illness is crucial in stopping potential outbreaks in 2016.
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