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Articles by Dr. Tesluk


Dr. Stephen Tesluk, DVM



Major news outlets have been reporting about cases of the canine flu for the past few weeks, and many local dog owners are increasingly concerned after the report of a confirmed case in Portland last week.  There is a tremendous amount of information “out there” regarding this disease, and it can be very confusing trying to sift through it all.  I will try to distill this milieu down to some essential points that will help dog owners be better prepared should the canine flu break out in our area.

            Canine flu is a respiratory disease caused by an influenza virus closely related to a virus that causes respiratory disease in horses.  Influenza viruses can mutate and cause disease in different species (that is the reason for all the concern about bird flu).  The first reported outbreak of canine flu occurred in Florida in 2004 at a racing greyhound kennel.  Since then m there have been a growing number of cases reported by veterinarian in the United States.

            Canine flu is spread through the air, and it is very contagious.  Because this is a “new” virus, dogs do not have any immunity to prevent infection and at least 80 out of 100 dogs that are exposed will be infected and become ill.  Of the 80 dogs that become ill, three to six could die.

            The incubation period is usually from two to five days, and the signs of canine flu can vary in severity.  The most dangerous cases have a rapid and severe onset, with coughing, high fever, nasal discharge and depression.  Thankfully these cases are rare but they can prove fatal in a matter of days if not treated promptly.  Most often, the canine flu presents itself like kennel cough, with a cough and mild depression, but it also causes a fever that is not responsive to antibiotics and may continue for three or more weeks despite treatment.  Some of these cases can progress suddenly to the severe, life-threatening form.  Very young and very old dogs have the greatest risk of severe infections.

            The cause of death in fatal cases is most often hemorrhagic bacterial pneumonia, which occurs when the protective mechanisms in the airways fail, and bacteria that are always present in low numbers multiply rapidly and infect the lungs.

            Treatment for canine flu includes the traditional use of antibiotics and supportive care, and some veterinarians experienced in treating these cases are also recommending the use of antiviral medications in the early stages to prevent the development of pneumonia.

            It is very important to initiate treatment quickly once symptoms appear.  Most dogs are treated as outpatients, but the severe cases require hospitalization.  Diagnosis requires paired serum samples taken one to two weeks apart- so treatment is initiated after a presumptive diagnosis is made.

            There is no vaccine for canine flu.  Exposure to the virus is most likely in places where dogs congregate, such as kennels, groomers, dog parks and even veterinary offices.  Operators of these businesses and dog owners need to be vigilant and conscientious to lower the severity of an outbreak.

            Coughing dogs should not be taken to the groomers, boarding kennels or dog parks.  If a dog becomes ill, the owner should notify the owners of any other dogs that may have had recent contact with the sick dog.

            Veterinarians need to have isolation protocols ready so they can safely deal with these highly infectious patients.

            The question is not will canine flu come to Ashland; the question is when canine flu will come to Ashland, and will we be ready for it when it arrives?

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