Canine influenza rapidly spreading in Washoe County

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) For years, canine influenza remained isolated to the east coast, but now that it is officially here in northern Nevada, veterinarians are urging dog owners to use extra caution.

"It's very spreadable," Dr. Rick Furman with Klaich Animal Hospital said. "We've got a big population of dogs here that have never seen it before, so there's not an immunity out there in the canine population. There's a lot of dogs susceptible to it."

Dr. Furman says while his clinic only has three confirmed cases of dog flu, it's likely they've seen around 100 cases of influenza. In some cases, they are still waiting for lab results. In other cases, the tests were never run because of cost, but the dogs showed signs of infection.

"These dogs looked sicker and the incubation period wasn't right," he said. "It was too short."

The good news is that while in rare cases some dogs are hospitalized, canine influenza fatalities are uncommon.

"Most dogs, they don't get horribly ill," Dr. Furman said. "They're a little off, they might run a little fever, they've got the cough. It's like humans where it's the very young, the very old, or have other medical problems so they're not as strong to fight off the infection [that are most at risk.]

He says many of the dogs are being infected by coming in contact with another dog.

"If we've got a dog that was at daycare or in a boarding facility, and 48 hours or 72 hours later they're coughing and running a fever and it doesn't look like kennel cough, then it's probably influenza."

Groomers are another business being affected by this outbreak. At Canine Design Grooming near Plumb Lane, groomers say clients have started canceling appointments on their veterinarians' recommendations.

"We expect a lot more cancellations and rescheduling along the way depending on how long and how big this gets," Casey Watkins, a groomer at the salon, said.

So far, no dogs have caught the flu at Canine Design Groomer, and they hope to keep it that way. Watkins says they are stepping up their cleaning and sterilizing wash tubs after every dog visit, and using a clean smock for every dog that comes in. They are also limiting dog-to-dog interactions and turning away clients if their dogs show symptoms.

"We're just trying to be hyper-vigilant," Watkins said. "We don't want to be a part of spreading it, and we certainly don't want people to be afraid to bring their dogs to us."

The virus can be spread from dog to dog through licking, or if they share a water bowl or toy that has been contaminated. But humans may be putting their own dogs at risk without even knowing it.

"It's not that humans have the virus in their system and give it to dogs," Dr. Furman said. "It's that we can carry it on our person."

The virus can attach itself to clothes, shoes, or skin, and can survive for a couple days in the right conditions. If you've been in contact with any dog throughout the day, Dr. Furman recommends changing your clothes when you come home before interacting with your dog. But most importantly, get your dog vaccinated.

"Some dogs that are vaccinated will still develop mild symptoms," he said. "But the efficacy is looking like it's going to be over 80% which is better than the human vaccine. It prevents lung disease almost universally."

He says in very rare cases, dogs can have a negative reaction to the vaccine, but that is the case with any vaccine and Dr. Furman believes the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. He also says there's a chance the flu vaccine could become standard for dogs.

"We think at this point, [the flu] is probably going to be here to stay."

To make sure as many dogs are protected as possible, Klaich Animal Hospital is waiving walk-in fees for existing clients who want to get their dogs vaccinated. Other veterinarian clinics and boarding facilities are hosting immunization clinics to help people protect their pups. Dr. Furman says the vaccine and isolation, may help slow the spread of the outbreak.

"Don't go to dog parks," he said. "Don't go up on the hiking trails. For now, let this big outbreak settle down a bit."

Signs to look for if you think you dog may have influenza include: Coughing, which may result in a little vomiting, loss of appetite, feeling lethargic, or running a fever. Dr. Furman says dogs should normally run about 101.5 to 102 degrees. Those with the flu run about 103 to 104. For more information, click here.