Potential cases of canine flu has DC-area veterinary offices sounding the alarm

Suspected cases of canine flu appear to be on the rise in the D.C. region. The illness is so prevalent and severe that veterinarians are telling dog owners to keep pets away from other dogs at places such as dog parks, doggy day cares and boarding facilities.

“It’s not uncommon to get dogs with a cough after boarding or being around other dogs, but definitely following Thanksgiving, there was a big upswing, where we were seeing multiple in a day, which is pretty unusual,” said Dr. Lauren Giebel, of Quince Orchard Veterinary Hospital in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Giebel said there were two or three animals with coughs coming into her animal hospital a day, when normally there are only a couple of cases per month. What is also different is how severe the illness appears to get in some animals.

“Some dogs were getting really, really sick. To the point that they were needing hospitalization at the emergency hospitals. A lot of them also had a weird GI component, where they started vomiting uncontrollably,” Giebel said.

A severe cough is a telltale sign, Giebel said, and it can get so bad that it keeps dogs up all night. The cough in some dogs lasts for several weeks; and in one case, the cough didn’t go away for three months, she said.

“I’m on the phone with the owners, and I can barely hear the owners because the coughing is so bad in the background,” Giebel said.

Giebel said her pet hospital has had only one confirmed case of canine flu, but that is partly due to dogs typically resisting pharyngeal swabs for a PCR test. The test is required to confirm a case of the canine flu.

“Much like people didn’t like the COVID swabs up their nose, try swabbing the back of the throat of a crazy Labrador retriever, all while they have snot and all these other, you know, fluids coming from them,” Giebel said.

Giebel said that is why a lot of times, dogs with similar illnesses are classified as having canine infectious cough.

Giebel’s veterinary hospital isn’t alone. WTOP reached out to several hospitals in the region, which report a rise in upper respiratory illnesses that come with a cough.

Wanda Hudgins, hospital administrator at Franklin Farm Veterinary Clinic in Herndon, Virginia, said they receive six to eight calls a day about dogs with symptoms similar to canine flu. She added that the cases are, “A little worse than we’ve seen.”

Hudgins said whatever is going around seems to be a “harder strain” than normal. The Herndon clinic is also urging owners to avoid socializing their pets with other dogs right now, including nose-to-nose greetings during walks.

According to Giebel, other illnesses, including bordetella, commonly known as “kennel cough,” are going around, as well; however, it is suspected many of the cases are canine flu.

Giebel said dogs with symptoms are being treated outdoors to prevent the spread of the flu. Veterinarians are even trying to help stop the spread by helping owners start treatment at home when possible.

The symptom to look out for is a cough that starts mild but gets worse over 48 hours. Symptoms also to watch out for are lethargy and vomiting. Anyone whose dog has those symptoms should contact their veterinarian.

When it comes to people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are no reported cases of canine influenza viruses spreading from dogs to people.

Meanwhile, there is a concern with dog-to-dog contact. According to Giebel, owners might not know if their dog is sick and contagious until it’s too late, as it takes anywhere from five to 10 days for symptoms to appear.

“If just one of those dogs goes to day care, and then has a yappy hour at the end of the week, he could potentially expose all those other dogs that normally wouldn’t have exposure,” Giebel said.

There is a canine flu shot, and Giebel said that vaccinated dogs appear to recover quicker than unvaccinated dogs. That doesn’t mean you should rush and get your dog vaccinated if it hasn’t been inoculated, she said.

“Don’t rush into it right now; we can’t handle the volume and then that just is more exposure,” Giebel said. “So, hang tight.”

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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