Don’t let your dog get sick: Take precautions to help pet avoid flu

There have been no confirmed cases of canine influenza in Jackson County, but local veterinarians are advising pet owners to take precautions to keep their dogs healthy.

An outbreak of the highly-contagious H3N2 strain is being blamed for the deaths of several dogs in the Louisville area. Because of Seymour’s proximity to Louisville, area veterinary clinics are recommending owners have their dogs vaccinated, especially if they travel and are around other dogs.

“This strain of flu tends to stay in cities once an outbreak occurs, so most likely this will be an ongoing problem in Louisville and could spread to Seymour,” said Dr. Paul Rennekamp of St. Francis Pet Hospital in Seymour.

In just two weeks, after mailing out information about canine influenza to clients, Rennekamp said he has vaccinated more than 100 dogs.

“I am recommending canine influenza vaccination for all pets who attend boarding, grooming, training, day care, dog parks and competitive events,” he said.

Pam Stradley with Jackson County Animal Clinic in Seymour, said she’s not aware of that office seeing any cases of canine influenza either, but said there have been many calls and visits with owners inquiring about the illness.

“There’s been a massive uptick in the number of people asking about it and the vaccine,” she said. “We’re probably doing 15 to 20 a week, so it’s been busy.”

Stradley said the hope is with so many people taking precautions, the virus won’t show up in Jackson County.

Dr. Glen Pullen with Seymour Animal Hospital said he believes it’s not a matter of if but when the first case will happen locally.

He attended a meeting last week with other veterinarians in the region to discuss the virus and the challenges it has been presenting in Louisville and other parts of the country.

“We just want to be proactive with this so we are taking the information we’re learning from Louisville and the challenges they are having and trying to eliminate and prevent them here,” Pullen said.

The vaccine is available for now, but could become limited in the future because of demand, Stradley added.

It takes two doses of the vaccine spaced two weeks apart, and the animal isn’t protected until about two weeks after the second dose, Pullen said.

“So we’re talking about a month before there is any real protection,” he said.

Dogs that are up to date with other regular vaccinations seem to do better if they contract the disease than those that have not had their other shots, Pullen added.

Symptoms of the canine influenza virus, which causes a respiratory infection, include persistent coughing for 30 to 60 days, sneezing, fever, nasal and eye discharge, lethargy, decreased appetite and rapid breathing and if not treated can lead to pneumonia and be fatal.

About 20 percent of dogs that have the virus don’t show any symptoms, Pullen said.

Although the infection rate is high with 80 percent of dogs exposed to the virus actually developing the illness, the death rate is low, around 10 percent.

“The strain of canine influenza in Louisville has been associated with 5 to 8 percent mortality for affected dogs,” Rennekamp said.

It is spread by a dog being in close contact with an infected dog. Dogs of any breed, age, sex or health status are at risk of infection when exposed to the virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Most dogs recover within 2-3 weeks, but can carry the virus for longer. Some dogs may, however, develop secondary bacterial infections which may lead to more severe illness and pneumonia, especially in older dogs. Anyone with concerns about their pet’s health, or whose pet is showing signs of canine influenza, should contact their veterinarian.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, canine H3N2 influenza was first identified after an outbreak in Chicago in 2015. Another strand, H3N8 was first identified in 2004 in Florida and has since been found in several other states.

“This is a disease people need to know about,” Pullen said.

St. Francis Pet Hospital, Jackson County Animal Clinic, Seymour Animal Hospital and Brownstown Veterinary Clinic all have the influenza vaccine available. It covers both strains of the flu.

New clients would have to pay for an initial office visit along with the vaccine.

“We want to make sure the animal is healthy enough first, and that there aren’t other problems,” Stradley said.

At a glance

Symptoms of the canine influenza virus, which causes a respiratory infection, include persistent coughing for 30 to 60 days, sneezing, fever, nasal and eye discharge, lethargy, decreased appetite and rapid breathing and if not treated can lead to pneumonia and be fatal.

For more information or to schedule an appointment to receive the canine influenza vaccination, call St. Francis Pet Hospital at 812-523-2273, Jackson County Animal Clinic, 812-522-1152, Seymour Animal Hospital at 812-522-2178 or Brownstown Veterinary Clinic at 812-358-2947.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.