Oklahoma City-area veterinarians are advising dog owners to avoid exposing their pets to other dogs in group settings because of an ongoing disease outbreak that has made hundreds of animals sick.
Late last month, OKC Animal Welfare announced it would close its shelter for at least a week because of a contagious upper respiratory infection that spread to 130 dogs, initially killing three. The shelter later said that samples from 10% of its ill population showed that the dogs were positive for H3N2 influenza (also known as canine flu) and strep zoo, a bacterial infection that could be fatal.
OKC Animal Welfare said as of April 4, five dogs had died.
Jon Gary, superintendent of OKC Animal Welfare, said on Wednesday that the shelter still did not have a reopening date because 297 dogs had shown symptoms of upper respiratory infections. But most of them were showing great improvement from their treatments, Gary said.
Dr. Matthew Clark, a veterinarian at Classen View Veterinary Clinic, said as of Friday, he had not seen any patients with strep zoo. But he has been seeing canine flu patients more frequently. He said his clinic had treated four confirmed cases of canine flu and 16 suspected cases as of Friday.
“We’ve been seeing quite a few respiratory cases, maybe two or three a day,” said Clark.
Clark said while the H3N8 strain of the canine flu had made its way to the Oklahoma City area years ago, this is the first time that the more severe strain of H3N2 has been confirmed in OKC.
“Canine influenza is a little bit like kennel cough, bordetella, things like that. But it’s more severe. So you tend to see coughing, sneezing, thick nasal discharge, fever, lethargy. In more severe cases, things like pneumonia, where strep zoo tends to be a lot more severe,” Clark explained. “It sometimes will skip the cough phase and go straight into an pneumonia or hemorrhagic pneumonia.”
Clark said strep zoo can even infect cats and immunocompromised people. There is no vaccine.
Meanwhile, canine flu can infect other dogs even if the carrier exhibits no symptoms.
“You generally are going to get sick within two to 14 days of being exposed to it. But you could be asymptomatically spreading the flu before you ever show up sick. And you can spread it for as many as 21 days,” Clark explained.
Clark said while there is a vaccine for canine flu, it’s in short supply, so he advised pet owners to avoid putting their dogs in group settings.
“As much as possible, refrain from any social situations for dogs. If you can hold off from day care, grooming, dog parks, boarding, social restaurants where dogs and people are congregating, anything that dogs will be in close contact with other dogs, if you can avoid that, that’s best practice right now,” Clark said.