As Bay Area residents continue to grapple with one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, their four-legged counterparts are facing a medical crisis of their own: canine influenza.
An outbreak of dog flu has shaken the South Bay, forcing some doggie daycare centers to temporarily shutter and veterinary practices to adopt special precautionary measures like drive-thru vaccine clinics.
Now there is word the highly contagious respiratory disease has spread to the Peninsula, affecting dogs as far north as Belmont.
“This is new here to our area,” said Dr. Kenton Taylor, a veterinarian with Miramonte Veterinary Hospital in Mountain View. “It’s not something I’ve heard of in this area until recently.”
The local veterinary community became aware of the outbreak during the second week of January, but it likely arrived between the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, said Dr. Cristie Kamiya, veterinarian and chief of shelter medicine at Humane Society Silicon Valley, based in Milpitas.
“We are guessing it’s pretty big – we’re talking about hundreds of dogs in the area that are likely affected,” she said.
Canine influenza is spread by direct contact between dogs, through contaminated objects including water bowls and leashes, and by humans transmitting it between animals, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Symptoms typically include coughing, nasal discharge and fever within two to five days of infection, but not every dog exhibits symptoms despite being contagious. Less than 10 percent of infected dogs die of the disease.
Local dogs are especially at risk because the virus is new to the area, and virtually every dog exposed becomes infected.
“Our dogs are not immune to it, and they’re going to be susceptible,” Kamiya said. “And so if you have 50 dogs hanging out together, and you have one dog with the virus, because there isn’t any immunity, every single one of them will likely get sick.”
Humane Society Silicon Valley is serving as the local repository for canine flu-related data. The organization has reached out to Bay Area veterinary medical associations and clinics to track suspected and confirmed cases and to solicit suspect doggie nasal mucus samples for testing at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin. The laboratories are amplifying and sequencing the viral DNA to determine the strain. Preliminary tests point to H3N2, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as an avian flu virus that adapted to infect dogs.
H3N2 is thought to have originated in Asia, where it was first identified in 2006, before it spread to the Chicago area, where it was first identified in 2015, the first time in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee were diagnosed with the same strain in May 2017.
While there is no evidence of canine influenza passing to humans, the CDC monitors the virus in case of future mutations that would allow it to infect people. Transmission to cats and between cats has been documented.
Like human flu, there is no cure for canine flu, but there is a vaccine. It generally costs between $30 and $40 and consists of two shots administered three weeks apart and then once every year. Dog owners are encouraged to call ahead and ask about the vaccine’s availability at their vet clinic; some clinics may not have the vaccine in stock because the virus is new to the area.
Vet Taylor said Miramonte Veterinary Hospital has not yet treated any cases of canine flu, but plenty of his clients are asking about the vaccine. He recommends it for any dog that spends time at doggie daycare or grooming or boarding facilities.
“While it may not prevent the disease completely, it should definitely lessen the severity of the symptoms,” Taylor said. “Very few vaccines are 100 percent. Rabies is an exception.”
Palo Alto Animal Services, the contract provider for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, has yet to detect a case of canine flu, but Acting Animal Services Superintendent Cody Macartney said shelter employees remain vigilant.
“We’re just observing our animals like we normally do and hoping for the best,” he said.
For more information on canine influenza virus and low-cost, walk-in vaccination availability, visit the Humane Society Silicon Valley website at hssv.org.