Sleeping yorkieCanine influenza has once again reared its ugly head in fairly spectacular fashion, this time in Bloomington, IL.  Apparently there have been numerous laboratory-confirmed cases, and also many suspected cases, and likely still more cases that have gone completely unreported.  It’s estimated that “hundreds” of dogs may have been affected already – it’s very difficult to get accurate numbers, but clearly there are a lot of sick dogs.  It’s a good example of what can happen when a highly contagious virus like the flu gets into a relatively naive population.  There are vaccines available for one kind of canine flu (H3N8), but it’s unknown if the vaccines offer any protection against the other type that was found in dogs in the Chicago area in 2015 (H3N2).  There are also two conditionally licensed vaccines in the US for the H3N2 canine flu (but same problem the other way). There is no word yet on which flu type may be the culprit in Bloomington.

The article published last week in the local paper talks about a number of smart precautions being taken by veterinarians and dog owners that will hopefully help stem the tide of transmission.  These include:

  • Keeping sick dogs at home whenever possible: for many dogs, illness is relatively mild and can be managed at home rather than at the veterinary clinic.  The most important thing is to avoid contact with other dogs so as to prevent further spread.
  • Keeping sick dogs out of the clinic waiting room: for dogs that are sick enough that they require more treatment, vets have been examining the animals in owners’ cars, or asking owners to bring them into the clinic through a separate entrance.
  • Consider vaccinating dogs, particularly if they have contact with lots of other dogs: this includes dogs that are boarded, go to the groomer regularly, or stay at doggy daycare.  It takes several weeks for immunity to develop after vaccination, so it won’t help with transmission in the short term, but may help if the outbreak lingers on for a while.
  • Avoid dog parks until the outbreak passes: because dogs can shed the virus before they show clinical signs of illness, during a high risk period like this it is a good idea to avoid letting your dog come in contact any dog you don’t know (and maybe even some of the dogs you do), even if it looks healthy.

There are also a number of good resources, including a “Pet Owner’s Guide to Canine Influenza” available on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website.

Hopefully we’ll hear some more details (and some strain typing) about this outbreak in the next few weeks.  For the time being, canine flu has yet to be found in Canada, but summer travelers should be aware of local disease outbreaks like this and talk to their veterinarian about what precautions they can take (including vaccination) to help avoid bring flu virus (and other bugs) back across the border when they return home.