A new canine influenza has sickened dogs at greyhound racing tracks, boarding kennels, and animal shelters in as many as 11 states, killing some animals, causing respiratory infections in others, and striking fear in the hearts of pet owners nationwide.
From January to May 2005, reports of outbreaks of a new, respiratory disease primarily in racing dogs came into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, West Virginia, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
First identified in 22 racing greyhounds at a Florida racetrack in January 2004, the dog flu is caused by an influenza A virus known as H3N8, previously seen only in horses. Since dogs appear to have no resistance to this new hybrid strain, “Nearly all dogs are susceptible,” explains Cynda Crawford, a professor at the University of Florida’s School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the scientists who identified the new virus.
About 80 percent of the dogs infected with the virus will suffer only a mild form of the disease, says Crawford, a short-term cough and respiratory illness. “It’s important for dog owners to keep up with their bordetella vaccinations so if their dog becomes ill, they know it’s not caused by that particular bacteria.”
Canine influenza is different from kennel cough in that fever often accompanies a dog’s cough, as does a runny nose and sneezing–which is apparently how the virus is passed from dog to dog, just as influenza is passed among humans.
“Despite the rumors on the Internet and elsewhere, this disease is not as deadly as some have made it seem,” says Crawford. “We don’t have all the answers yet, but we are looking at a mortality rate on the order of 5 to 8 percent of dogs that become infected.”