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| | |-+  Pet owners worry as dog flu spreads nationwide
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« on: October 16, 2005, 12:21:50 AM »

Pet owners worry as dog flu spreads nationwide
By JIM FITZGERALD
Associated Press Writer

October 13, 2005, 1:10 PM EDT

CHESTNUT RIDGE, N.Y. -- Every inch the pampered purebred, the fluffy white dog named Curry stands like a statue for his haircut at the Best Friends Pet Resort and Salon.

He looks, and is, perfectly healthy. But Curry, a 5-year-old bichon frise, was one sick puppy a month ago. And this was a kennel that was forced to close for three weeks after more than 100 dogs began showing signs of a new disease, canine influenza virus, also known as dog flu.

"He was extremely lethargic, having a hard time breathing," said Curry's owner, Margaret Ragi of Upper Saddle River, N.J. "The life just wasn't there in his eyes. We were really worried."

Lots of dog lovers are worried these days. Experts say the flu is spreading steadily through the dog population, unchecked by antibodies or a vaccine. Perhaps 5 percent of its victims are dying.

Researchers recently found that the virus surprisingly crossed over from horses to dogs, striking racing greyhounds at tracks in 11 states. Now the influenza has been found in pets around the country, with cases documented in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

"One-hundred percent of dogs will be susceptible," said Edward Dubovi, director of the animal virology lab at Cornell University. "I would expect to see this infection moving thorough groups of dogs until a large percentage gets infected and there are a lot of immune dogs."

Cynda Crawford, a veterinary immunologist at the University of Florida, said researchers are getting 30 to 40 percent positive readings on the blood and tissue samples sent in by veterinarians who think they might be treating a dog with influenza. The symptoms include a cough, low-grade fever and a nasal discharge.

"I suspect as we get other samples back from other states and Canada we will see that this is very widespread," she said.

Five percent is not a high death rate, "but if it's your dog, it's 100 percent," said Crawford, who has eight pet dogs of her own.

She said she sees reports of dog deaths "on a daily basis," but cannot estimate the number of deaths nationwide because most will not be reported and "just because a dog dies of pneumonia does not mean it had canine influenza virus infection."

Crawford, who helped write an article on the virus for the journal Science, said that while newborn, sickly and elderly dogs would seem to be most vulnerable, "Many of the dogs that have died from complications of this disease have been young, healthy dogs."

Confusingly for pet owners and veterinarians, some of the symptoms mimic a common, less dangerous bacterial infection known as "kennel cough."

As with human influenza, it is easiest to contract dog flu in gathering places _ kennels, dog shows, animal shelters, even outdoor dog runs in parks.

That has resulted in a lot of lonely dogs, as pet owners keep them home to avoid the flu. Several days after the kennel in Chestnut Ridge reopened, there were just six dogs in "doggie day care," down from the usual 17, and just 50 boarding, down from 150, said manager Kelly Kurash.

At least two deaths have been counted in the suburbs north of New York City. One was a Shetland sheepdog who was boarding at Best Friends on Sept. 10, when staffers concluded that the illness going around wasn't kennel cough.

"We knew we were dealing with something more serious," said Deborah Bennetts, spokeswoman for the Best Friends chain based in Norwalk, Conn. "It seemed to be spreading and some dogs were getting seriously ill."

Owners of all the dogs _ as well as the cats and a guinea pig or two _ were called to retrieve their pets and notified about the illness. About 15 dogs were sick enough to go to veterinary hospitals, but the sheepdog was the only one that died.

Meanwhile, the kennel staff and some contractors disinfected the entire building and changed the air conditioner filters. Tests on the dogs confirmed the new virus.

When the kennel reopened Sept. 30, some dogs were turned away as the result of the kind of screening that is becoming increasingly common as awareness grows about the dog flu. At the 42 Best Friends kennels in 18 states, "We're not allowing any dog that has boarded within the last two weeks or has been at a dog show or some kind of group setting like doggie day care," Bennetts said.

Just barring sick dogs won't work, she said, because 20 percent of those with the virus don't show symptoms but can spread it.

Dubovi said researchers are at work on a vaccine "and the question is how fast we can get it out there and how effective it is. It might be two months, six months, eight months."

In the short term, some vets feel there's a possibility of another upswing in cases at Thanksgiving and Christmas; as in the late summer, many people go away _ and leave their dogs in kennels.
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Joh 9:4  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
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