Canine influenza, which originally began earlier this month in the western part of the state along the Sierra range, has spread east to the Lahontan Valley, said local veterinarians.
Dr. Doug Moore, owner of Fallon Veterinary Clinic, has been in practice in Churchill County since 1983 and said he hasn’t seen a virus like this in 35 years.
“All vets got hit really hard,” Moore said of the outbreak of canine flu. “It happened so sudden. I’ve seen several positive cases of canine influenza.”
Since early February, he said dogs have shown varying degrees of influenza ranging from mild to moderate. He said owners may keep their dogs home with mild to moderate symptoms. He said moderate symptoms include fever and raspy lung sounds, but the most severe cases occur when a dog won’t eat or drink and must be hospitalized.
“This is a new virus that has been in the U.S., mostly back East, working to the Midwest and crossing over to the West Coast — Washington, Oregon, California — and now heading back toward Colorado,” Moore said.
To help dog owners, Moore conducted a flu clinic on Thursday afternoon.
Dr. Jeffrey Oyler of the Lahontan Valley Veterinary Clinic said in the four years he has been in Fallon, he has never seen anything like this bout of canine flu. Although some dogs have been tested, he said many pooches, though, have come in showing identical clinical signs. He said veterinarians are recommending a vaccination with a booster.
“We’ve never had any positive cases until now,” he said.
Oyler said both younger and older dogs are more susceptible for catching the flu. He said dogs who succumbed from the flu were older and had weaker immune systems.
“People who keep their dogs at home and not in contact with others are at a lower risk,” he said.
However, Oyler said if people take their dogs for walks or plan to board them, then they should contact a veterinarian to give their dogs the shot and booster. He added dogs could come in contact with the virus by walking on the street or putting their noses against fences.
“I know the dog park (near Liberty Pond) has been affected,” Oyler added.
At this time, Oyler said humans cannot catch canine flu, and he hasn’t heard of any verified cases where it has been passed down from dogs to cats.
The city of Fallon animal shelter has implemented policies to protect their dogs from catching and spreading the flu. Shelter Supervisor Tony Burgess said the practice of people wanting to bring in their new pets to socialize them with shelter dogs has stopped. Burgess also said staff is spraying disinfectant on visitors in case they may be bringing in stray germs. The procedures are apparently working.
“We have no signs of the flu,” he said.
Burgess said both the city and shelter have information on their Facebook pages on the canine flu and steps for pet owners to mitigate the threat.
Shannon Miller, owner of Maggie’s Playhouse, closed her facility on Feb. 9 after a number of dogs showed flu symptoms. She said dogs began to have either a dry or wet cough and then progressively became worse.
“It’s nothing to laugh about. It’s horrible,” she said about the flu.
Not only did a handful of dogs who were staying at Maggie’s come down with the flu but also several of Miller’s dogs showed symptoms. After closing the daycare center, she said staff spent a few days cleaning, bleaching and washing down the interior.
Miller said she’s aiming for March 5 to reopen, but for new boarders, they will need the vaccine and a booster. She also credited Oyler’s for his help.
Jackie Tracy at Top Gun Kennel, one of the largest boarding facilities in the Lahontan Valley, said boarding restrictions have been in place for several weeks. She said dogs must have their initial shot and first booster.
“We’re not taking any out-of-town dogs except from Churchill County and the Fernley area,” she said. “It’s some nasty stuff, unfortunately, but we wish some customers would take it more seriously.”
Oyler said Lahontan Valley Veterinary Clinic is taking the same precautions as Top Gun Kennels.
“Although we’re seeing a decrease in cases, it (the virus) will be out there for another month or two,” he added.
Moore said Fallon Veterinary Clinic is not accepting boarders unless he has a history on the animals.
“We haven’t done much boarding at all,” he added.
According to DogFlu.com, “This respiratory infection is relatively new, so almost all dogs are susceptible to infection when exposed because they have not built up natural immunity. Most dogs that develop an infection caused by this virus have a mild illness, but some dogs get very sick and require treatment in a veterinarian’s office.”
Furthermore, the dog flu is much like the human flu and is airborne. It can pass between dogs through particles in the air via coughing or sneezing or can be passed by physical contact. It can be transferred indirectly through dog bowls and toys.
The disease was first recognized in 2004 by University of Florida researchers and Cornell University virologists working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention following an outbreak of severe respiratory illness at a Greyhound racing facility in Florida.