By Bill Mayeroff
The outbreak of canine influenza that began spreading through the Chicago-area dog population in March seems to be slowing, but veterinarians are still urging people to take measures to minimize the risk of exposing their dogs to the virus.
Dr. Shana Damiana of Higgins Animal Clinic in Chicago said that at its peak, the clinic was seeing three to five dogs per day presenting symptoms of canine influenza, but that the numbers have decreased in recent weeks. Symptoms include lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and nasal discharge. The lethargy, she said, is due in large part to the fever.
Dr. Fionnuala Teuber, owner of Berglund Animal Hospital in Evanston, agreed. Berglund, Teuber said, has not seen any dogs with symptoms of canine influenza in over three weeks. At the peak of the outbreak, the clinic was seeing two to four dogs per day with flu symptoms.
Damiana believes the media has exaggerated the extent of the outbreak by using “canine flu” as a catch-all term to describe a broad range of respiratory issues. There are six viruses, including influenza, that can cause respiratory issues in dogs, she said. Additionally, she added, three bacterial factors, including bordetella (also known as “kennel cough”), can cause respiratory issues.
Damiana said many people mistakenly thought their dogs were exhibiting symptoms of canine influenza, when in reality, the respiratory issues were caused by something else. If a dog does not have a fever or nasal discharge and isn’t lethargic, she said, he or she likely does not have canine influenza. In fact, she said, with bordetella, which is one of the most common causes of respiratory issues in dogs, the dog generally does not exhibit any symptoms at all.
At the peak of the outbreak, pet parents in and around Chicago were urged to keep their dogs away from places where they were likely to come in contact with other dogs, such as groomers, dog parks, and boarding facilities. The city of Chicago even went so far as to post signs at dog parks warning people to keep their dogs out of situations where they would be in close contact with other dogs.
Teuber said the outbreak seems to be slowing enough that people can be slightly more comfortable bringing their dogs into places where they might come in contact with other dogs.
Damiana agreed that the outbreak is slowing, but she urged caution in returning to heavily dog-populated areas.
With the weather more consistently warm, she said dogs are spending more time outside, which means a greater risk of coming in contact with other dogs and a greater risk of exposure to the virus. She said before people resume taking their dogs to places like dog parks and groomers, they should wait a few weeks to make sure the spread of the virus doesn’t pick back up.
Bill Mayeroff is a freelance journalist and editor who lives in Chicago with his dog, Chester. Bill is also the founder and editor of Pints and Pups, a blog dedicated to covering two of his favorite things: dogs and beer.