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April 08, 2015

No dog flu here, but similar disease hit last month

More than 1,000 cases of dog flu have been reported in Chicago, according to ABC News, forcing city officials to advise dog owners to keep their pets away from parks and other areas where they can come in to contact with other canines.

So far, however, there is no indication of a dog flu outbreak here, though more than 150 cases of a different respiratory disease were reported last month in Philadelphia and other areas of Pennsylvania. Still dog owners should know what to look for.

The dog flu, characterized by symptoms of coughing, nasal discharge and sneezing, is highly contagious and has already taken the lives of five dogs in the Chicago area. But the disease is rarely fatal. A two-shot vaccination is available, but not necessarily recommended for all dogs. The virus takes about two weeks to run its course. 

Influenza in dogs is similar to the disease in humans, according to Brittany Watson, V.M.D and director of the shelter animal medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. 

"It’s really important if your dog's sick to take it to the veterinarian," Watson said. "Specifically with canine influenza, the key is supportive care: fluid supplementation, listening to the chest to make sure you don’t get pneumonia. It's the same thing with humans and animals."

Watson said epidemics like the one in Chicago are usually accelerated by two factors. First, it usually happens in an area where not many dogs have gotten the flu before. Secondly, the flu spreads quicker in areas where many dogs are in close quarters. Cities, therefore, can be prime targets. Flu cases have been seen in the Philadelphia region as early as the mid-2000s. 

The real trouble for dogs is when influenza leads to secondary infections, which is why treatment should begin as early as possible. Above all, Watson stressed taking your sick dog to a veterinarian, as owners usually can't distinguish between different respiratory diseases.

"The relationship with your personal vet is so important to decide what to do with your animal," Watson said. "They’re going to help you not only treat your animal, but also help prevent future infections."

The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), an independent organization headquartered in Philadelphia, reported 152 cases of canine infectious respiratory disease in their two shelters during the month of March. Liz Romaine, director of marketing and communications for the PSPCA, said shelter environments are quite vulnerable to outbreaks of respiratory disease. 

"The good news is that it's treatable and we have the resources," Romaine said.

The outbreak forced the PSPCA to quarantine both its Philadelphia location and its Danville shelter temporarily. But the organization reported that it has been able to contain the outbreak:
Of that total, 52 percent now show only mild symptoms and 36 percent are considered healthy. There are no cases of severe illness and no dogs have died or had to be euthanized due to the outbreak.
The PSPCA has been treating infected canines with a combination of medicines. Romaine said they have taken all the necessary steps for quarantine and expect to reopen their shelter very soon. In the meantime, the shelter has been able to adopt 45 animals in the last two weeks through mobile adoptions.