What you need to know about the dog flu outbreak

Posted at 8:05 PM, Jul 03, 2015

ATLANTA — New cases of canine influenza have spread across several states, and veterinarians are urging vigilance.

The current outbreak has been building for a few months. In April, more than 1,000 pooches got dog flu in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest, while the Atlanta area has had 55 confirmed cases as recently as June 25.

Other positive results have been reported in various states, including Iowa, Indiana and Massachusetts, according to Cornell University. In mid-June, Minnesota saw its first case, putting adoptions on hold at a local Humane Society.

Lee Latham, an Atlanta resident whose dog Skyler contracted canine influenza earlier this month, warned, “It’s nothing to mess with, and it is expensive.”

Here is what you need to know about the virus:

What causes it?

Two viruses — A H3N8 and A H3N2 — cause dog flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease only affects animals.

Can humans get it?

Experts say they have found no evidence of transmission from dogs to people.

Is it safe to take my dog to the park?

Depends on where you live.

As a precaution, dog owners in states affected by the virus should avoid dog parks, grooming spots and other areas where pets gather.

“Be wary of public places,” said Meredith Millwood, a spokesperson for Atlanta Humane Society. “Dog parks are a gamble you’re taking with dogs you don’t know.”

The virus is prone to spread among dogs staying in kennels and shelters. Latham said he was on a trip with his partner when their kennel called them with bad news: One of their dogs had a very high fever.

What strain is causing the U.S. outbreak?

The U.S. outbreak is a result of a virus closely associated with the H3N2 strain, according to Cornell University. The revelation spurred concerns because the strain, which is mostly found in Asia, had not been detected in North America until last April.

How did the virus start?

The most recent one afflicting the U.S., the H3N2 strain, is an avian flu virus that is different from its human counterpart. In addition to dogs, it affects cats, and was first reported in the United States last April. Before then, it was mostly limited to countries such as China and Thailand.

The second one, the H3N8 strain, originated in horses before it crossed over to dogs, and the first U.S. case of the virus in pups was reported in 2004.

“Scientists believe this virus jumped species (from horses to dogs) and has adapted to cause illness in dogs and spread among dogs, especially those housed in kennels and shelters,” according to the CDC.

What are the symptoms?

Signs of dog flu are similar to the strains of flu that affect humans. The animals cough, get a runny nose, are lethargic, lose appetite and have a fever. Dogs with severe cases can develop high fevers, around 104 ºF to 106ºF, and may be at risk of contracting pneumonia, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

One dog owner whose pet fell ill, Betsy Lamirand, told CNN affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta that her dog “was just coughing unbelievably. His whole body was convulsing.”

Latham said his dog “could not walk. We had to carry him.”

Other cases may be far less obvious. William Campbell, the owner of Piedmont Bark, a doggy daycare facility in Atlanta, said, “The dog can actually carry the virus but not show any of the symptoms.”

How is dog flu treated?

Veterinarians can test for the flu, but there is no specific treatment because canine influenza is a viral disease.

“Everybody is running to the vet right now,” said Campbell.

Still, dogs can get supportive care to boost immunity. If a secondary bacterial infection is diagnosed, a veterinarian can prescribe antibiotics. Of course, medical treatment can come at a significant cost.

“It’s a financial burden, a big financial burden to the tune about $1,000 a day. You’re willing to pay it. It’s your dog,” said Mikki Funderburke to WSB-TV after her dog, Tex, contracted dog flu.

Latham said Skyler’s medical bills ended up totaling $2,800.

Is there a vaccine?

A vaccine is also available in the United States, but only for H3N8, the CDC says. It remains unknown whether it can help prevent the newest strain — H3N2 — causing the latest outbreak.

Is dog flu fatal?

Usually not.

Only a small percentage of dogs die. Dogs can get severely sick with pneumonia as a result of the illness. But some dogs show no symptoms at all, according to the CDC.

As for Skyler, the dog has been home since Sunday and appears to be gradually recovering. “We almost lost that dog,” Latham said.