Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chicago in crisis: Where will dog flu spread?

Bark in the Park Chicago attracts thousands of dogs every May. But, it will not take place this year. Bark in the Park is cancelled because the canine influenza epidemic shows no sign of abating.

With at least five dogs dead and over 1,000 dogs diagnosed with the H3N8 flu, Chicago’s dog businesses are reeling. At the very worst time, three weeks of Spring Break and the holidays, many boarding kennels had to shut down. Some are doing a deep cleaning before re-opening and some will require proof of vaccination. It takes at least three weeks for the vaccination to be effective as it requires a booster two weeks after the initial subcutaneous shot. (Now another strain of the flu has been detected, but per Cornell and the University of Illinois, they both share the same hemagluttanin and protein, so there should be cross protection and the same vaccination protocol is to be followed.)

Some dog training establishments in municipal Chicago have suspended their classes, waiting for dogs to be fully vaccinated, per Stacey Hawk of Hawk City K-9. She speaks for many when she says, "It's hitting all of us hard, financially and emotionally, for all of the dogs we know going through this."

Right now the flu is primarily affecting Chicago, but there are signs it could spread and when it does, veterinarians and pet owners may not be prepared. Symptoms are fever, cough, nasal discharge and lack of energy. Per Hawk, “What people don't realize is how contagious this is, and because it's airborne, dogs don't have to be in the proximity of other dogs to get this. It can last on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours and on soft surfaces (clothes, shoes) 24 hours. Healthy, young dogs who are not social, who don't do group activities, and who don't go to dog parks or daycare have gotten this. Dogs have caught the flu in their building's elevator."

Cases of the flu have now been reported in CA, MI, WI, IN and MO. Vets in the Chicago suburbs are reporting an uptick in cases. Vets in South Bend are calling their clients to suggest vaccination, even though no cases have been reported there. A dog in Madison, WI recently visited Chicago and now has the flu. So many dog owners in Madison have asked for the vaccine, that it is in short supply. This is not a vaccine which is ordinarily stocked. This writer called her vet in San Antonio and was told the vaccine would have to be ordered if requested.

Dog owners in Chicago are being asked to avoid dog parks. (See sign at the top of this article.) Some pet stores are not permitting dogs. Dog owners are no longer congregating and letting their dogs go nose to nose, as this could transmit the flu and not all infected dogs show symptoms. With dogs traveling, like the spread of Heartworm after Katrina, it is only a matter of time before other areas experience outbreaks. So, in answer to the question, “Where will the dog flu spread?” The answer seems to be, “Everywhere.”