Kansas dogs may be in danger from a new strain of potentially deadly canine flu.
In addition to dogs, the H3N2 virus also can be carried indirectly by humans.
“That’s the thing, even people traveling without their pets can bring this back to their pets,” said Karen Beetch, a veterinarian at Indian Hills Animal Clinic in Wichita. “This flu can survive for up to 48 hours on innate objects (like countertops), clothes up to 24 hours, and hands and skin up to 12 hours.
“(People) don’t even know they’ve been around an infected dog, and suddenly they’re a carrier, too.”
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Beetch and many other veterinarians are urging local dog owners to have their dogs undergo a two-shot vaccination series against this newest strain of dog flu.
It was unclear whether the virus has been confirmed in Kansas. Merck Animal Health officials included Kansas in a 13-state list showing where it has been found so far, but Kansas veterinarians said they’ve seen no confirmations.
Heartland Animal Hospital on North Woodlawn is taking part in an effort Tuesday to get the word out about the threat and to offer discounted first shots for vaccinations, said Gary Breault, a Heartland veterinarian.
Pet owners are encouraged to contact their local veterinarians to confirm their participation and make an appointment to have their dogs vaccinated, Merck officials said.
“We’re looking at a very contagious viral infection mostly involving situations where there are dogs coming together in groups,” Breault said.
Any contact with the virus will infect 100 percent of the dogs involved, veterinarians said. Of those, 80 percent will show symptoms and the remaining 20 can carry the infection, Breault said.
Mortality is low, at a rate at least less than 10 percent, said Susan Nelson, a clinical veterinary professor at Kansas State University.
The H3N2 virus gained media attention recently when dogs tested positive for the disease after they took part in dog shows in mid-May in Georgia and Florida. In two weeks, the number of cases in Texas has increased from two to seven, according to Texas A&M University.
The infected dogs from the shows in Georgia and Florida went home to other states, carrying the virus with them, Nelson said.
Beetch said dogs have recently tested positive for the disease in Missouri, Colorado and at least 10 other states.
Nelson said this strain of flu first showed up in the U.S. in Chicago in 2015. It’s thought it was brought over by a dog from Asia, where the disease was first diagnosed in 2007.
Hundreds of dogs were quickly infected with the disease in the Chicago area.
“The prudent thing, if you are a dog owner, is that if you’re going to take part in high-risk activities like boarding, dog shows and agility shows, it might be prudent to vaccinate,” Nelson said.
She also pointed out that one shot isn’t enough; the vaccination is most effective when done in a series of two shots over several weeks.
There’s no evidence the disease can be passed to humans, but it has been found in cats.
Nelson said H3N2 dog flu symptoms include coughing, sneezing, lack of appetite and high fever.
It is a different illness than “kennel cough.” The standard kennel cough vaccination does not prevent H3N2.
Beetch said places like dog parks, pet daycare centers and boarding facilities could allow the disease to quickly spread across Kansas. She said such facilities, in other parts of the country, require pets to be vaccinated against H3N2.
None of four Wichita-area boarding facilities contacted said they required such vaccinations. Staff who answered the phone were also not aware of the new virus.
A University of Florida news release warned dog owners to not take their pet directly to a veterinarian’s waiting room if they suspect their dog may have the illness, for fear it could infect other dogs directly or in the following hours or days. Instead, they suggested such dog owners first contact the veterinarian to set up an exam location where other pets might not be as easily infected.
Many dog parks in Chicago have large warning signs, saying the virus has been found in the area and dog owners are using the facility at their own risk.
Sharing toys, food dishes and water bowls are common ways for the disease to spread.
Nelson and Beetch said human-to-dog spread of the disease is certainly a possibility.
“If a dog has it, and it sneezes on you, coughs on you and you get it on your hands, or even your clothes, you can spread it,” Nelson said. “It’s pretty persistent.”
The disease could also be picked up and transported by humans coming in contact with things like contaminated park benches, chairs or other items where a dog has deposited the disease.
Antibiotics and a veterinarian’s care can usually handle the diseases, but it’s recommended infected dogs go through an additional three weeks of quarantine.
Vaccinating against the disease is usually effective.
Kelly Razek, a veterinarian at Chisholm Trail Animal Hospital, in Park City, said some of their clients have asked about such vaccinations. Beetch said her clinic is working the vaccinations into normal pet care and routine maintenance. About 40 percent of the dogs that use her clinic are getting vaccinated against H3N2.
Beetch and Razek said the price for the vaccination is about $25, plus the cost of an office visit, if needed.
A booster shot is needed in about three weeks and is important.
“If they get the first shot, and don’t come back for the booster, that dog is not protected,” Nelson said.
Shots become annual from then on.