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April 20, 2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Dear Valued Client,

Many of you have questions regarding the Canine Influenza Virus (“dog flu”) following recent media coverage of an outbreak in the Midwest.  There was also a scare much closer to home this month at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter – the latest reports indicate that the likely culprit there was Bordetella or “kennel cough” and not the dog flu.  So what can “pet parents” do to protect their dogs from the dog flu and is it safe for dogs in Georgia to stay in a kennel, go to the dog park, go to doggy day care or any other place that they might encounter other dogs?

First of all, recognize that the symptoms of the dog flu are similar to any other respiratory disease, such as kennel cough:  cough, runny nose, fever and lethargy.  It is highly contagious and though it cannot be passed to humans, cats are susceptible to the virus.  The disease is spread by contact with respiratory secretions from an infected dog – these secretions can be passed through the air or by contact with a contaminated object.  For example, the virus can live up to 24 hours on clothing or a toy.  The disease is most contagious in the early stages of infection and is usually not fatal nor particularly dangerous.  However, it can sometimes lead to severe cases of pneumonia which can be fatal.

Because of the highly contagious nature of this disease, the best means of prevention is avoiding exposure – avoiding contact with other dogs.  Vaccination is another means of prevention and is strongly recommended for any dog travelling to dog shows in the Midwest where more than 1,000 cases have been reported in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.  Because the dog flu vaccine available in the United States is for the H3N8 strain and not the H3N2 strain that characterizes the current outbreak in the Midwest, we are not currently requiring that dogs boarding in our facility be vaccinated.  There have been no confirmed cases of H3N2 in the state of Georgia thus far.

Please do know, however, that the H3N8 vaccine is a very safe vaccine.  It is not a “core” vaccine such as Distemper (which we do require for boarding) but a “lifestyle” vaccine, and even before this much publicized outbreak of H3N2, Free Home Animal Hospital was recommending that dogs who do come in regular contact with other dogs through boarding, dog parks, etc. be vaccinated against the H3N8 strain of the flu.  The vaccine is administered in 2 doses, separated by 3 weeks, and after the second dose, it can take up to 3 additional weeks before there is full protection.  We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding the risks and efficacy of vaccinating for the dog flu.

Rest assured that when you board your pet at Free Home Animal Hospital, our team members are trained to recognize the symptoms of respiratory diseases, including influenza.  Although it has always been an integral part of our “routine,” to take precautions for good infection control, we are practicing increased vigilance during this time.  For example, we are exercising particular caution to prevent dogs from different households coming in contact with one another and to make certain that we follow best practices for disinfecting hands, clothing, equipment and surfaces.  When you book boarding reservations for your dog, we will also be asking about any recent travel to the Midwest, and we will not be admitting dogs for boarding who have travelled recently to the areas affected by the outbreak.  Finally, any dog showing symptoms of respiratory illness while hospitalized or boarding will be placed under strict quarantine and given appropriate treatment.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions regarding canine influenza or any other subject affecting your pet’s health!

Best regards,

Karl Leurart, DVM