New dog flu spreading through WNC

Barbara Hootman

Canine flu that started in Illinois in late spring has now made its way into Western North Carolina. It is suspected of infecting some 200 dogs in North Carolina, causing veterinarians to scramble to care for so many sick canines.

Flu is not a new disease in the dog world. But there is no effective vaccine against strain H3N2 (H3N8, the strain from last year, has a vaccine). The new strain is of avian origin and was detected in China in 2006.

“The disease has been hit and miss throughout the U.S.,” said Dr. Otto Sharp at Swannanoa Valley Animal Hospital. “All dogs are at risk because it’s a new disease. The dogs that are most likely to be affected are the social ones that go to the dog park, groomer, kennel, and doggie day care. Anywhere they come nose to nose with each other is a threat.

“Since it is a respiratory disease, it can be spread by clothing, dog bowls, toys and other surfaces that an infected dog has been. It is easily killed with chemicals such as Lysol. The infected dog is most contagious before symptoms become evident.

“With the new Asian viral strain of flu being seen in Asheville, the dogs shed virus for up to 21 days. The coughing can be anywhere from moderate to severe and may be seen with the development of pneumonia and lung hemorrhaging and death. However, kennel cough death occurs in only about 1 percent of animals affected. Some 20 percent of the dogs that contract flu may suffer death.”

Whether a dog has flu or not probably cannot be determined by the owner.

“The severity of canine flu can (be) so mild you’re unaware of it,” Dr. Judith Rozzell said. “Exposure is most likely in kennels, rescue shelters or show situations where good hygiene is very important.”

Sharp said veterinarians are not sure at this time if the older strain vaccine works against the new flu strain.

“We will have to wait and see,” he said. “Currently our clinic is free of the virus.”

Canine flu symptoms

High fever. Loss of appetite

Coughing. Nasal discharge. Lethargy