Use Dog Chicago Friendly Areas At Your Own Risk: Dog Flu Update


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The dog flu or Canine Influenza Virus is now a crisis in Chicago and also many suburbs. The virus is extremely contagious, spreading from (unvaccinated) dog to dog, and is now at outbreak proportions. Dogs have died. This is serious.

The virus continues to perpetuate – particularly in dog parks.

The Chicago Park District is posting the following at the entrance of their Dog Friendly Areas, hoping that by restricting use of these areas the virus spread will slow:

WARNING

The Canine Influenza Virus (the dog flu) is at serious proportions around Chicago. 

 All unvaccinated dogs are at risk.  Even dogs not acting sick themselves can carry this virus. 

 Enter this Dog Friendly Area (DFA) at your own risk

 The virus is extremely contagious.  Virtually all unvaccinated dogs that are exposed will contract the disease. 

  Symptoms include:

coughing

lethargy 

lack of appetite

nasal discharge 

trouble breathing

 If you note any of these symptoms, keep your dog away from other pets and see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

 A vaccine for the dog flu may be suggested for social dogs; contact your veterinarian.  All social dogs are required to have the bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine for DFA licensing. 

 Chicago Veterinary Medical Association

Dr. Donna Alexander, Administrator, Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control

Steve Dale, CABC, WGN Radio

The Chicago Park District, as far I know, is the only park district to proactively take action, suggesting people – for now – stay out of Dog Friendly Areas with their pets. I hope other park districts (in areas where the virus is prevalent) do the same.

For now, I suggest dog owners consider skipping day care.  One dog daycare facility,  called DoGone Fun temporarily closed their doors, which was the right response. another facility The Dog Spot Petcare in Downes Grove has been requiring the vaccine bordetella and also Canine Influenza Virus vaccine for for dogs boarded, so they don’t have a problem.

Because of a lack of previous built in-immunity to the dog flu (unlike human flu strains), nearly every dog exposed will get the virus.

Several years back Dr. Cynda Crawford, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, who  helped to discover the canine influenza virus in the first place explained 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 affected, sometimes requiring hospitalization, and sometimes succumbing to the illness. The remaining 20 percent or so get the virus but don’t get sick. This complicates matters because these dogs still shed virus, spreading the virus to other dogs – though they have no symptoms themselves.

This is one reason why the vaccine for the Canine Influenza Virus may benefit the population overall, the vaccine limits that shedding among carriers. Of course, the most significant explanation is that FAR fewer dogs will get sick at all or get as sick with the vaccine. What’s important to understand though is that the vaccine requires a booster – so a dog vaccinated today will not receive complete protection until that second vaccine (the booster) is given about two weeks later.

Some day care facilities are reportedly telling their clients that all the pets are safe in their facility because they don’t accept sick dogs, and they clean scrupulously. The problem is that 20 percent or so of carriers who don’t exhibit any symptoms but still spread the virus.

What’s more people can even spread the virus. If a dog with the canine influenza virus kisses you, and you then are kissed by a healthy dog – you’ve just served to potentially transmit the illness to that previously healthy dog. That’s just how contagious this is.

True, not all dogs get sick, and even among those who do – most dogs recover, and some without veterinary care. But do you want to take that risk? Again, dogs have died, and naturally there’s an expense associated with veterinary care that many dogs with the dog flu do require.

Here are my personal suggestions:

– Dog walkers and dog walking companies (even if they enter a house to scoop the cat box, but there’s also a dog who lives there), create their own protocols, such as washing hands and even going so far as to wipe shoes with antibiotic wipes between clients. And, most of all,  don’t mix multiple dogs from various homes on the same walk.

– Consider not attending agility or other dog sport classes for a few weeks.  As important as dog training (especially puppy classes) are, do consider skipping two weeks of classes. My hope is that trainers will understand and will credit clients.

– Don’t board your dog if you don’t have to. If you are leaving town, ask a friend or neighbor to watch your dog.

– Dr. Donna Alexander asked  me to point out that there are many unauthorized dog parks, where people just take their pups to play. Obviously, there there will be no signage at these places (some are inherently dangerous for dogs for others reasons, such as no fencing and nearby traffic).

The good news is that people don’t get sick from the canine influenza virus. And also, other household pets, such as cats, are not susceptible to the canine influenza virus.

I am personally concerned (and many veterinarians I know agree) that with the weather warming up, and Spring break around the corner, more dogs will be more social, and more dogs will be boarded as people depart for vacation. Lessening the sociability of dogs (aside from vaccinating) is the only way to slow and ultimately stop the outbreak. I also suggest that dog owners speak to their veterinarians about the vaccine. I always also suggest twice a year preventive care check ups anyway.

To be clear, what’s going on does not appear to be a strain of bordetella (kennel cough), which all dogs should continue be vaccinated for, and must be vaccinated for to use Dog Friendly Areas in the city.

If there’s is good news, Chicago area veterinarians are working collaboratively with Dr. Alexander’s office, which is superb model for other major metropolitan areas. Because of Dr. Alexander’s work and also the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association, we do have a snapshot of what’s happening in Chicago and the suburbs. Also, the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association is proactively supporting public education messaging.

 Dr. Derrick Landini and Dr. Natalie Marks explain the dog flu on WGN Radio.