Dog Flu: Washington State Officials Confirm New H3N2 Strain Started At Boarding Facility

A new type of dog flu that sickened thousands of dogs last year has now arrived in Washington State. Public health officials confirm that the current outbreak started at a King County kennel.

In late December, after staying at Holiday Kennels in Kent, Washington, several dogs become ill with flu-like symptoms, including runny noses and coughs. At first, a common dog ailment known as kennel cough was suspected.

As reported by the Seattle Times, one dog who stayed at Holiday traveled to Georgia with its owners. While there, the dog visited two other dogs, who later became ill. After tests were conducted by a lab in Atlanta, the canines tested positive for a flu virus known as H3N2.

As a result, other dogs who stayed at the boarding center were tested by public health authorities in Washington. The results, which were received late Wednesday, also came back positive for H3N2, confirming the virus came from Holiday.

As many as 90 dogs may have come down with the flu so far.

Bret Gagliardi, who started Holiday Kennels 22 years ago, said he has never experienced an outbreak like this before. In order prevent additional animals from contracting the virus, he has temporarily closed the facility for an extensive cleaning and inspection.

While one case of H3N2 has been found in Helena, Montana, no other kennels or boarding facilities in Washington State have been affected.

New dog flu strain discovered last year.

In the United States, dogs stricken with the flu are usually infected with a virus strain named H3N8. However, a new strain has been spreading throughout the dog population for at least the past nine months.

In an April report by the Inquisitr, close to 2,000 dogs in Chicago and 25 other states were sickened with a new canine influenza virus scientists later identified as H3N2. They believe it is a possible mutation of a similar dog flu that caused an outbreak in Asia several years ago.

Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, says it should be no surprise that the virus made it to Washington State. So far, approximately 2,000 cases of the new dog flu have been reported nationwide, but Filippo thinks the figure is probably higher.

“It spreads so easily and because it’s a novel virus, there’s no immunity,” he warned.

Within 24 hours of exposure, a dog will experience symptoms of the flu and can spread the virus well before appearing sick and for several weeks thereafter. Although vaccines are available to protect against H3N2, many veterinarians in Washington State do not keep them in stock.

However, pet owners shouldn’t panic since the dog flu is generally a mild illness. Most canines make a full recovery within two to three weeks.

Despite this, dog flu can lead to a more serious illness, such as pneumonia, if left untreated. Also, dogs that have other health issues may be especially vulnerable to complications from the bug.

Around 2 percent of dogs die from the flu, so a pet experiencing symptoms should be monitored and taken to a vet if the infection gets worse. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, other dogs and animals should be kept away as much as possible. Although not common, H3N2 can infect cats, guinea pigs, and other small pets.

“Keep your dog away from other dogs,” said Beth Lipton, a veterinarian with Public Health for Seattle-King County. “Forego the grooming, or the dog park visit, and the obedience class and figure out what’s going on first so we can try to stop any potential outbreak.”

In a Facebook post, Public Health described the symptoms of K9 influenza.

The spread of dog flu usually occurs around the holidays.

Many families who are traveling during Thanksgiving or Christmas keep their dogs at boarding facilities while they are away. Since the animal will be housed with several other pets, this is when a canine is most at risk for catching the virus. Once the dog returns home, experts say it is a good idea to closely monitor a pet’s behavior and look for symptoms of dog flu.

“Get an examination, X-rays and blood work and laboratory testing can be submitted to confirm influenza in your pet, but the cases can really vary,” said Dr. Deena Relucio, a veterinarian in Portland, Oregon.

Dog flu experts do not believe the virus can spread to humans, and no one as of yet has been infected with the H3N2 virus. Although the majority of cases are in Washington State, dog flu has the potential to become more widespread if left unchecked.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]