BLOOMINGTON — Canine influenza has sickened "hundreds" of dogs in the Bloomington-Normal area in the past few days so veterinarians are urging dog owners to keep their pets away from other dogs and to call their vet if their dog shows symptoms.
"The most important thing we should do is to keep our dogs at home until we have this (outbreak) under control," said Dr. Kirsten Pieper of the Animal Emergency Clinic of McLean County.
Though rarely fatal, canine influenza is worrisome because few dogs have been exposed to it or vaccinated against it so they have no protection, said Pieper and Dr. David Bortell of Bortell Animal Hospital. That means that nearly every dog exposed to the highly contagious respiratory infection gets sick for a week or two.
Pieper and Bortell were not aware Monday of any dogs in the area who have died during the outbreak. Dogs that have died after getting dog flu because it develops into pneumonia generally are older dogs, puppies or dogs with weakened immune systems, Bortell and Pieper said.
Bortell estimated that "hundreds" of dogs in the area have suspected or confirmed cases of canine influenza.
The first case of dog flu was confirmed two weeks ago. But the number of suspected or confirmed cases began to rise several days ago "and this weekend, it really hit," Bortell said.
"It was a bad weekend at the emergency clinic," Pieper said.
"If dogs are around other dogs, it could continue to spread like wildfire," Bortell said.
"People can't get this but it is easily spread from dog to dog by sneezing or coughing," Pieper said.
No one knows why the outbreak is happening now. Bortell guesses that a dog from the area was with a dog from elsewhere who had the flu. The local dog then spread the infection to other dogs.
As of Monday, the animal emergency clinic had treated at least 15 dogs with confirmed cases of dog flu and another 15 with suspected cases that weren't confirmed by a test, Pieper said.
Bortell's clinic had treated at least 20 dogs as of mid-day Monday.
In addition, the emergency clinic and many veterinary practices were getting dozens of calls from people whose dogs were experiencing symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, lethargy, fever and not eating or drinking, the vets said. In many cases, pet owners were opting to keep their dogs at home and treat their symptoms.
People whose dogs are experiencing symptoms should call their vet or, if it's after hours, the emergency clinic at 309-665-5020. In many cases, vets — to control the spread of the disease — are treating dogs in their owners' cars or are asking owners to bring their dogs to separate clinic entrances, Bortell and Pieper said.
Dogs are given supportive care, such as medicine for their symptoms. "With supportive care, dogs are recovering quite well," Bortell said.
There is a vaccine that can reduce the duration and intensity of flu. But the vaccine is a series of two shots — two to four weeks apart — and a dog doesn't have immunity until two to four weeks after the second shot, Bortell said.
"If you are planning an upcoming boarding or grooming or daycare, call your vet and ask about the vaccine," Bortell said.
Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech
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