A new dog flu that has sickened at least 2,000 pets in 25 states may have emerged in Washington after a suspected outbreak at a Kent kennel, health officials said Tuesday.
Seattle health officials are warning that a new strain of dog flu that has sickened at least 2,000 dogs in 25 states since last spring may have emerged in King County.
But they also say a suspected outbreak at a Kent kennel that may have affected dozens of dogs last month appears to be contained — and pet owners shouldn’t panic over what typically is a mild illness.
“If dogs are getting sick with respiratory illness, it should just be considered a possibility,” said Beth Lipton, public-health veterinarian with Public Health — Seattle & King County.
Worries about the H3N2 canine influenza virus, first seen in the United States in Chicago last March, were sparked by an unusual spate of sickness at Holiday Kennels in Kent in late December.
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Several dogs developed flulike symptoms, including runny noses and coughs, said operator Bret Gagliardi. He wouldn’t give an estimate, but health officials reported that 80 to 90 dogs may have been affected. Some had to be given cough suppressants by visiting vets, Gagliardi said.
“I’ve owned the kennel 22 years, and we haven’t really had a situation where it was like this,” he said Tuesday.
Kennel cough, a common ailment, was suspected until a dog that stayed at the kennel traveled to Georgia with its owners — and visited two other dogs. Those dogs tested positive for H3N2 at a lab near Atlanta. Now, test results are pending from two dogs that may have been sickened at the kennel, Lipton said.
In response, Gagliardi shuttered his dog day care and boarding center for two weeks and conducted a thorough cleaning, he said.
Until last year, H3N8 influenza virus was responsible for flu in dogs in the United States. Then, last March, hundreds of dogs in the Chicago area and throughout the Midwest fell ill with a bug identified as H3N2, likely a variant of a dog flu detected in part of Asia since 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There’s no evidence, so far, that dog flu spreads to people, and there have been no human infections with the canine H3N2 virus. The bug sometimes affects cats and, perhaps, ferrets and guinea pigs.
Seattle health officials published a blog post Tuesday warning pet owners. But experts at Washington State University’s veterinary school, which has fielded dozens of calls and conducted tests for H3N2 in the past year, said they hadn’t heard of possible cases.
“We have not seen an animal positive,” said Charlie Powell, a WSU spokesman. “To our knowledge, this would be the first confirmed case in Washington.”
But a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association said no one would be surprised if the new dog flu had made it to the Pacific Northwest. At least 2,000 cases have been reported across the country, but the figure is likely far higher, said Michael San Filippo, a spokesman.
“It spreads so easily and because it’s a novel virus, there’s no immunity,” he noted.
Dogs can show symptoms of flu within 24 hours after exposure, but they’re likely contagious for three days before they fall ill — and weeks afterward, said Lipton, the Seattle veterinarian.
Two manufacturers — Merck and Zoetis — have produced vaccines that protect against H3N2, but because it hadn’t been seen yet in Washington state, many veterinarians don’t stock the vaccine.
Dog flu is generally mild, but, as with human flu, it can lead to serious illness, including pneumonia. Pets with underlying health conditions can be vulnerable to the bug.
Pet owners who suspect dog flu should monitor their animals and seek veterinary care if the infection gets worse, Lipton said. They should keep their pets away from other animals while they’re sick.
The Kent kennel has been responsible in reporting the illnesses and then shutting down the site to prevent spread, she added. No other kennels or boarding centers have reported cases of dog flu.