Kansas City area dog lovers should be on alert.
Veterinarians here and across the country are advising dog owners to watch their pets for signs of a sudden-onset cough, a lack of appetite or malaise — all of which have been described as symptoms of canine influenza, or dog flu.
The respiratory disease that sickened close to 1,000 dogs in four Midwestern states a year ago now has been documented in 30 states, including Missouri, where one dog tested positive last year.
Although it appears no Kansas City area dogs have been diagnosed, one veterinarian believes it could be only a matter of time.
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“If it is not in Kansas City now, it may be there at some point,” said Leah Cohn, professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia.
Pet owners are correct to be vigilant, Cohn said, as the influenza, which can be spread nose to nose, is highly contagious among pets who visit dog parks or spend time in day care facilities. Then again, many dogs will shake off the illness and not need medical intervention, she said.
“The vast majority of people who get the flu feel crappy for a while and get over it,” Cohn said.
That goes for many dogs as well, she said.
“If your dog just has a cough, but it is eating or drinking well, this may be an infection that will just run its course.”
But for some older dogs or dogs with other illnesses, it can be potentially life-threatening, Cohn added. In severe cases, the disease could lead to high fever and pneumonia.
Two canine influenza viruses have been identified worldwide.
Canine influenza H3N8 had been monitored in horses for about 40 years before officials traced cases of respiratory illnesses in dogs to it in 2004.
Scientists believed the virus jumped from horses to dogs, especially those housed in kennels and shelters. In 2005, officials identified H3N8 as a “newly emerging pathogen” in America’s dog population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
South Korea health officials documented a separate influenza, an avian virus now known as H3N2, among dogs in 2007.
Authorities in the United States first detected that illness among dogs last April, when Chicago became an epicenter.
In Illinois, officials logged 820 positive tests for canine influenza over much of the past year, compared to 1,055 negative tests during that same time period, according to the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University in New York.
The center, which compiles statistics from labs and clinics across the country, documented one positive test and 115 negative ones in Missouri in that time period.
All 60 tests conducted in Kansas turned out negative.
Vaccines exist for both strains of dog flu.
At the Union Hill Animal Hospital in Kansas City, initial vaccines are followed by booster shots about two or three weeks later. The shots cost $25 each (or $100 for the four), although there is a discount if both vaccines are followed by boosters.
For new clients, the hospital requires a $25 exam to verify the pet is healthy enough for vaccines.
Hospital staffers have not documented any cases, said veterinarian and medical director Christi Belew. Still, pet owners should be alert for symptoms.
“With any animals that show upper respiratory signs with cough, fever, runny eyes or nose, we recommend that they be seen immediately so we can assess what their needs will be,” Belew said.
As the strain is extremely contagious to other dogs, pet owners should alert their clinics before coming in so they can make arrangements to have their dog wait away from other dogs.