Flu season in the greater Toledo area is starting out with the canine variety.
A local outbreak of canine influenza has sickened dozens of area dogs recently, with at least five confirmed cases. While the highly contagious virus has been identified previously in other Ohio metropolitan areas and across the country over the last few years, it’s now hitting Toledo for the first known time.
“We’ve been seeing at least five [cases] a day,” “It has spread very quickly,” said Jeanna Beck, hospital director at MedVet Toledo.
As of Tuesday, the emergency veterinary clinic had confirmed three cases of the H3N2 strain of canine flu, with tests for other dogs still pending. The clinic has treated at least 50 dogs thus far with the numbers continuing to climb, Ms. Beck said.
The outbreak appears to have stemmed from a Columbus-area dog who arrived Oct. 4 at the Pups Paradise boarding and daycare facility in Sylvania. The dog showed no symptoms during its stay but later became ill and was confirmed to have the virus.
Another dog who was in playgroups with the affected canine also spent time at the Pups Paradise location in Perrysburg, subsequently exposing dogs there to the virus as well.
“The following week, we started receiving reports of dogs that were coughing and were being treated for kennel cough,” owner Ron Deleeuw said.
Kennel cough, or bordetella, is the canine version of the common cold. Both kennel cough and the canine flu present with similar symptoms like coughing, a runny nose, lethargy, and lack of appetite. The canine flu often also includes fever, though some kennel cough cases can develop fever as well.
“The symptoms are very similar, and without a confirmatory test, it’s hard to differentiate,” said Dr. Gary Thompson of West Suburban Animal Hospital in Sylvania Township.
Dr. Thompson, whose clinic is just down the road from Pups Paradise in Sylvania, said his office confirmed one case of H3N2 and has treated about 15 to 20 dogs for the illness. Not all dogs are tested specifically for the virus because it can be expensive, but veterinarians will treat for it if a dog has likely been exposed.
Dogs are contagious for several days before they develop symptoms, and can remain contagious for up to a month. Treatment is limited to supportive care like antibiotics, fluids, and cough suppressants.
Dr. Thompson said the average, healthy dog can successfully fight off the flu with support. But it can become complicated in more severe cases.
“The big concern is if they develop secondary pneumonia,” he said.
The outbreak has extended up into Michigan, with Temperance Animal Hospital also having confirmed a case.
Both Pups Paradise locations shut down their operations Saturday to begin extensive cleaning and multiple rounds of top-to-bottom sanitizing, along with replacing all air filters. The last dog in boarding went home Tuesday.
“It was just a matter of time until it came to the area,” Mr. Deleeuw said. “Unfortunately, it came to us first.”
Pups Paradise expects to reopen this Saturday, but will now require all clients’ dogs be fully vaccinated for the flu before they will be allowed to return.
“We average 150 dogs a day between both locations,” Mr. Deleeuw said. “We will do everything we can to safely care for the dogs.”
Dr. Thompson said area dog owners should not panic, but use general caution. Those dogs who regularly visit boarding, daycare, or grooming facilities, dog parks, and other places where canines gather should get a bivalent vaccination that covers both the H3N2 strain and the older H3N8 strain of canine flu.
“It spreads just like the flu in people and is super contagious,” Dr. Thompson said. “If you’re in a population that has that kind of exposure, then the vaccine is recommended.”
The vaccine requires an initial dose followed by a booster two to four weeks later, Dr. Thompson said. Dogs should then receive an annual booster shot.
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