|Biscuit takes a break outside her kennel at the Carbon County Animal Shelter. Dogs at the animal shelter are at the mercy of the canine influenza if an outbreak occurs there. Currently, the shelter is overloaded with homeless dogs. Dog owners are encouraged to get animals spayed and neutered to avoid unwanted litters of puppies, which often end up in the shelter. Further, getting dogs microchipped can help avoid a prolonged stay at the shelter for animals which are taken to the shelter when they are found away from their homes.|
A virus which first appeared in Florida in early 2004 has reached Utah, with cases of canine influenza or "dog flu" confirmed in the Salt Lake Valley last week.
In an e-mail to veterinarians across the state, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food veterinarian Warren Hess, confirmed the outbreak and urged veterinarians to take preventative measures to help stop the spread of the virus.
"The canine influenza virus is closely related to the virus that causes equine influenza and it is thought that the equine influenza virus mutated to produce the canine influenza virus," stated a fact sheet about the virus produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association, University of Florida, Cornell University and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are generally two forms of the virus.
The mild form shows symptoms similar to kennel cough and persists for up to 30 days.
The mild form of the virus is often incorrectly diagnosed as kennel cough.
Frequently, dog flu is accompanied by a thick nasal discharge which is caused by a bacterial infection associated with the virus.
A more severe form of the flu will manifest symptoms such as a high fever, pneumonia and rapid or labored breathing.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that the virus is a recent development in canines, there is no vaccine and no natural immunity.
When exposed to the virus, nearly all dogs will become infected, with approximately 80 percent showing symptoms.
Most infected dogs will generally have the more mild form of the virus; however, the virus is fatal in five to eight percent of cases.
To date, there are no reported cases of the virus spreading to humans.
However, young children, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system should be careful to limit contact with animals that are ill.
Carbon County veterinarians Boyd Thayn and Brent Griggs encourage local residents to be watchful for signs of the virus and to take preventative measures to keep pets from spreading the disease.
"Try to avoid contact with dogs of unknown origin," said Grggs.
Dogs regularly come in contact with other canines at pet parks, running trails, kennels, animal hospitals and shelters. Avoiding those areas when possible is one of the first steps animal owners can take.
Thayn noted that, since the virus has only been reported on the Wasatch Front, residents should be particularly wary when taking animals out of the county and when other dogs come to visit from the Provo, Salt Lake and Ogden areas.
Many preventative measures are generally good practices for dog owners. The measures include:
Keeping chains, leashes and fences secured.
Cleaning toys, dishes and areas where a dog plays or sleeps with disinfectant, such as a quaternary ammonia compounds or a 1 to 30 dilution of bleach.
Asking whether respiratory problems have been noticed at dog shows, kennels, animal hospitals or other areas.
General housekeeping practices and infection control measures can help stop the spread of the virus at kennels and similar areas.
For local residents who think a dog has been infected with the virus, a visit to a veterinary clinic is recommended.
Not all throat and nose infecfections are caused by the virus and proper diagnosis is important to determine proper treatment.
Much of what can be done for dogs with the mild form of the virus is to support the animal's natural immune response, including good diet and plenty of water.
A veterinarian can suggest medical treatments for bacterial infections.
In more severe cases, dogs may need to be treated more intensively, especially to battle pneumonia.
To prevent the more serious forms of dog flu, Carbon County pet owners should make certain that their animals are current on all other vaccines.
While the vaccines are ineffective against the canine influenza virus, the immunizations may help prevent secondary infections.
Further, knowing that a dog has been vaccinated for other diseases may help in the diagnosis of canine influenza, according to experts
People who operate kennels must be particularly watchful for signs of the virus, which can spread by contact with saliva, urine, feces and blood of infected animals.
Once a kennel has been exposed to the virus, a two-week quarantine period is recommended. During that time, the kennel should either shut down entirely or use alternate locations.
Thayn and Griggs indicated that they will take the necessary preventative measures to help prevent the spread of the virus at their practices.
Dogs with respiratory problems will likely be isolated from other animals and pet owners may be asked to use alternate entrances.
In some cases, house calls may be preferable to visits to the clinic.
Presently, proper diagnosis is only possible by sending samples to Cornell University.
The Carbon County veterinarians said they will consider sending samples from dogs they suspect have the virus.