Dog flu reaches 'epidemic' levels in Chicago

Sarah Schulte Image
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Dog flu reaches ?epidemic? levels in Chicago
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Canine influenza is now being called an "epidemic" and is prompting dog parks to post warning signs.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Cases of canine influenza, or dog flu, are on the rise in the Chicago area. It's now being called an "epidemic", and is prompting dog parks to post warning signs.

If your dog has a high fever, loss of appetite, a never-ending cough and is lethargic, there is a good chance the pet has canine influenza. Dog flu cases in the city of Chicago began spreading a couple weeks ago. Now, animal hospitals are overwhelmed with cases.

Taco, a 1-year-old French bulldog, is being treated in isolation. He and dozens of Chicago dogs have been stricken with the flu, or some type of infectious respiratory disease.

Dog owner Terry Keisling is hoping to avoid what has become a canine influenza epidemic in the city. She brought 10-year-old Bernice to her veterinarian for a flu vaccine.

"She has a lot of dog friends that go to dog parks and doggie day care, and I think that's where it is spread. She is 10 and I don't want to take any chances," Kiesling said.

Prevention and communication is what many Chicago veterinarians are counting on to stop the spread of the outbreak. But at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, the cases keep coming.

"We've seen upwards of 80 pets with presumed canine influenza and other respiratory diseases in the past two weeks," said Dr. Joanna Harchut.

And at Chicago's Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, where the facilities are constantly being cleaned, two dogs have died from the virus. At this point, Dr. Anne Cohen doesn't see an end in sight when it comes to the spread of the illness.

"Most of the transmission is coming through where dogs are in very close proximity with each other, for example, doggy day care centers, boarding facilities, shelters, kennels, groomers," Dr. Cohen said.

The Chicago Park District is posting warning signs at dog parks, and until the outbreak is under control, vets are advising dog owners to keep their pets away from any place where there is close contact with other dogs. They also encourage cleaning anything a dog touches.

"This is spread through respiratory secretions: coughing, sneezing. Also spread through things the dogs touch, like water bowls, toys," Dr. Harchut said.

And with spring breaks, vets are concerned the outbreak will spread outside city limits as pet owners may board or travel with their dogs. Canine influenza has caused the cancellation of some events, including the dog Easter egg hunt in Horner Park.