U vets warn dog flu might spread

A University veterinarian said the flu can be mistaken for kennel cough.

Yelena Kibasova

Local veterinarians are concerned about a spreading dog virus, but Pete Gillespie and his 2-month-old puppy Bailie hadn’t heard about it.

The virus infected hundreds of dogs in Wisconsin last year. University veterinarians said they’re expecting cases to cross the border and want to increase awareness of the flu.

Gillespie, an electrical engineering junior, said, “I think that’s really scary, and I mean, there’s nothing you can do about it?”

The new virus has been linked to horse influenza. The strain apparently jumped from one species to another, which is rare, said Jeff Bender, assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“What’s unusual about the canine flu is that we don’t think of dogs as having influenza and here there’s been, basically, a virus that has jumped between horses and dogs, so that’s unique,” he said.

The virus was discovered early last year when several greyhounds died at a Florida racetrack. Cases have also been spotted in other states, such as New York and Iowa, in greyhounds and domestic canines.

So far, no cases have been reported in Minnesota, but veterinarian clinics are using caution.

“Hand washing and hand hygiene is important in trying to prevent movement from one animal to another,” Bender said.

It is not easy to track and confirm the spread of the virus, due to unreported cases and indistinct symptoms, Bender said.

Canine influenza can easily be mistaken for kennel cough because of similar symptoms, he said.

“Some cases (of canine influenza) were with a high fever and pneumonia, which generally you don’t necessarily see in kennel cough,” Bender said.

Typically there are two forms of the infection. The milder cases exhibit coughing that lasts two to three weeks and possibly a mild fever. The severe form is characterized by high fever and an increased respiratory rate. The death rate is 1 percent to 5 percent.

Some student dog-owners are aware of the new virus and are concerned for their pets.

“I’m a little worried Ö It would really be terrible for (my dog) if I couldn’t take him to places where other dogs are,” said Diane Barnell, a first-year veterinary student.

Others are not as worried about the virus.

“I probably wouldn’t (act differently) because it’s a very, very low ratio of dogs that get infected,” said Marcie Deremer, who was visiting the University clinic with her dog Hope.

Not much can be done to protect pets from the flu, since nearly all dogs that come in contact with the virus get infected.

“If they wanted to visit kennel parks or places where other dogs are, they probably should be aware of the health of their dog, and if their dog is ill, they shouldn’t go,” Bender said.

Bender said a dog with symptoms should be taken to the veterinarian.

Rare cases of flu transmission from poultry and pigs to humans have been reported, but there are no indications canine flu will behave in a similar way.

Researchers are working to create a vaccine for dogs.