Sick Dogs in Chicago, Canine Influenza Virus (dog flu)


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The canine influenza virus is responsible for sickening and even killing some Chicago and Chicago area dogs. Dr. Natalie Marks and Dr. Derrick Landini in Chicago are among the veterinarians now confirming (using lab report results) what I suspected might be the case all along; there is an outbreak of the dog flu in the region (as I talked about on WGN Radio). This also happened in the summer of 2008, though it may be worse this time around.

There is a vaccine for the canine flu. Talk with your veterinarian about whether or not it makes sense for your dog. Keep in mind, the vaccine doesn’t offer full protection until a second booster is given (about 2-weeks later) – and even then like the human flu vaccine, the vaccine for the dog flu may prevent symptoms all together or minimize symptoms. However, the canine influenza virus vaccine may absolutely be suggested, and still might be a very good idea, depending on your dog’s lifestyle. And for dogs with any interaction with other dogs the Bordetella  (kennel cough) vaccine remains strongly recommended as a ‘core vaccine.’

A part of that problem is that because the virus is greatly novel, most dogs haven’t been previously exposed have zero resistance. “Nearly 100% of exposed dogs get the bug, though 20% may never show symptoms,” explained Dr. Cynda Crawford in an interview from several years back; she is a clinical assistant professor, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, and  helped to discover the canine influenza virus in the first place. According to Crawford’s studies, about 70 to 75 percent of exposed dogs become ill, but recover either with veterinary supportive care or on their own; up to eight percent are more profoundly affecting, sometimes requiring hospitalization, and sometimes succumbing to the illness.

The flu is extremely tough to deal with for several reasons. For starters, dogs who are not sick can carry the bug, and spread the disease.

While people can’t get sick from the canine flu, it seems we even participate in spreading the disease. For example, if a worker at a daycare center or dog walker touches a sick dog, or even a dog carrying the virus that doesn’t exhibit symptoms, that daycare worker or dog walker can potentially spread the disease to another dog by allowing the healthy dog to lick.

For people concerned about taking their pets to veterinary clinics, most clinics follow appropriate protocol to clean exam rooms between visits (even previous to the canine flu, it’s the standard).

Unfortunately, dog daycare facilities are by nature places where dogs are supposed to romp with one another. And there’s little doubt that this sociability has increased the spread of illness. Beverly Petrunich began to see sick dogs at her daycare, called DoGone Fun, she simply closed her doors. To her credit, she did the right thing.  On their website it says, “Our goal is to treat every dog like our own,” and that is exactly what she has done at 1717 S. State Street. However, only a pawful have done the right thing, some daycare’s – according to my readers – fabricating explanations for how their facility is safe. I suggest only fully vaccinated dogs are likely near safe. Dogs that are not sick, as indicated, may still carry the virus, so dogs socializing with one another need not act sick to spread the illness.

Area parks and Chicago Dog Friendly Areas remain open. I would cheer a community park responsible enough to close them down until the virus – as of this writing still considered an outbreak – settles down.  Dog training classes can be affected as well. And also other fine programs, such as animal assisted therapy or dog sports – where I suggest, for now, dogs keep a distance from one another, and handlers refrain from petting other dogs, or even take a taking a week or two off might be best.

Of course, anytime there’s a sudden change in a pets’ behavior, contact your veterinarian. Symptoms are dogs who might otherwise scarf down food becoming a picky eater; clearly the dog is acting like he/she doesn’t feel well, coughing, perhaps even breathing heavily. Pneumonia has developed in some dogs, and that’s serious. Like in people, catching illness early is helpful, and may suggest a better prognosis – however some dogs get very sick very quickly, and these aren’t particularly fragile elderly dogs – it’s happening to young healthy dogs.

Here’s one of many stories I previously authored authored on the canine influenza virus.

On WGN at 6:35 AM CDT Sunday March 29, Dr. Marks and Dr. Landini joins me on Steve Dale’s Pet World to talk about the sick dogs in Chicago, and outbreak of the canine flu. Listen here or 720AM.