A canine flu outbreak has sickened many dogs in the Midwest, and veterinarians are cautioning pet owners to keep their dogs from going nose-to-nose with other four-legged friends.
The University of Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine says the virus has sickened hundreds of dogs in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Vets say more than 1,100 cases, including six fatalities, have been reported in Cook County alone.
Recent tests from the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory have identified the strain as H3N2. Clinical assistant professor Keith Poulsen says it's not yet known how effective current vaccines are against this strain, which is believed to have come from Asia.
He said an older strain, H3N8, has also been detected in the region.
Both viruses can cause persistent cough, runny nose and fever in dogs. Experts say a small percentage will develop more severe symptoms. The H3N2 infection has been associated with some deaths.
Poulsen said pet owners with sick dogs should call a veterinarian to schedule a test outside the veterinary clinic and should not bring dogs into areas where they could interact with other dogs.
"It's really no different if you're talking about dogs or toddlers, if you think they're sick, don't bring them to daycare," Poulsen said.
Veterinarians say neither canine strain is not related to bird flu or is contagious to humans, but the H3N2 strain could sicken cats.
Sarah Duchemin, who works at The Dog Den in Madison, said the kennel has been monitoring its dogs for symptoms, and that if a dog shows up with a runny nose or is sneezing, it would be isolated and sent home. She said the kennel hasn't had a dog show any flu symptoms yet, but it cleans its floors and cages every day to prevent the spread of disease.
Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago estimated it has sent about 10 lab tests each day with suspected cases. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at the hospital, said the office has field more than 100 calls each day from concerned dog owners.