There are now 13 confirmed cases of H3N2 dog flu in Florida, and two more conformed in Georgia. It’s believed these dog flu cases are either dogs who participated in recent dog shows or dogs who live with dogs who were in shows.
Meanwhile, at the Blue Ridge Classic, a major dog show in Asheville, NC, this weekend, nearly 200 dogs withdrew from competition out of concerns of catching the contagious flu.
Rumors have been spreading for over a week now that the canine flu has been identified at many dog shows around the country, so it’s hard to discern fact form fiction as to which shows really had dogs with flu. However, it seems clear that dog shows in Perry, GA and De Land, FL both had dogs affected by flu.
The good news is that all 13 dogs diagnosed with flu in the Sunshine State are now on their road to recovery, though some required hospitalization along the way. Of the two known dog flu strains in the U.S., H3N2 tends to make some dogs sicker (compared to the other strain, called H3N8), and deaths do sometimes occur.
The dog show world is rattled. In part, it’s because rumors abound online, and perhaps all dog show officials aren’t being transparent. So no one knows with absolute certainty how much flu is out there (if any) above and beyond those cases confirmed by the diagnostic laboratories .
Dr. Cynda Crawford, an expert on canine flu, and clinical assistant professor University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville says she doesn’t blame handlers pulling their dogs from dog shows at this time, particularly in the Southeast region of the U.S.
Here are some facts about the H3N2 virus in dogs, which explain the challenges. Once infected, clinical signs in most dogs take two to five days to occur. So handlers and owners may expose their dog not yet knowing their dog has been infected. Some infected dogs, though, never get sick – still those lucky dogs are as contagious as the sick dogs. However, because these dogs appear to be healthy, the owners have no warning to keep them away from their doggy pals. As for the sick dogs, even once they recover, they may remain contagious up to about a month.
Crawford says there is one and only one effective way to deal with the virus: Vaccination.
The dog flu vaccine does require a booster two to four weeks after the initial shot. And the dog doesn’t receive full protection until several days after that booster. The vaccine prevents flu in most dogs, and vaccinated dogs who do get sick will have minimized symptoms.
While the dog show world is grappling about what to do, Crawford is far more worried about the broader general canine population. “We always worry about spillover from the affected subset into other dog populations because it is so highly contagious and most dogs don’t have immunity.” she says. “And many of the show dogs are from all over, and now they potentially travel back to communities carrying the flu.”
Crawford was at the forefront of helping to identify the H3N8 canine influenza virus back in 2008. And she’s on-record warning the dog show world that they’re at particularly high risk. It took several years, and a different strain of the flu virus, but these instances of flu at the dog shows now prove her prediction correct.
The American Kennel Club and individual dog breed clubs could mandate proof of the canine influenza virus vaccine (including booster) before a dog can participate in a show. This move wouldn’t only protect show dogs, but also limit exposure to other dogs. The International Boarding Pet Service Association has been proactive, strongly urging their members to mandate the dog flu vaccine before dogs are boarded or kenneled.
Crawford is a strong supporter of vaccination for canine influenza virus, and beyond show dogs – for all social dogs. “If we, as a dog-loving nation want to beat back H3N2 canine influenza virus, then we must vaccinate as many dogs as possible to establish a barrier to virus transmission.”
I hope the American Kennel Club responds with absolute and definitive action, before matters get worse – not only for dogs competing in shows but for all dogs.
Here’s some dog flu info from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine