Sunday, May 14, Perry GA. Best of breed in Black Russian Terriers has just finished. Arisha takes breed and will stay with her handler for the groups. My wife prepares to pack up the boys, Oli and Charlie, for the 10 hour drive home. It’s a good weekend for “the bears” as we call them. The dogs showed well and points were earned. Another show weekend in the books as we say. I couldn’t make this trip unfortunately – had to work. We own and operate a small animal veterinary clinic in a small town on the coast of NC. Sometimes work comes first. As a vet in solo practice, time off is difficult to come by.
Monday comes and goes as per normal. Dogs are all great. Oli and Charlie are happy to be home and doing well. We weren’t aware of what was to come. There was no warning. Tuesday morning both Oli and Charlie seem a little tired. Nothing too unusual for these growing boys (Oli is 20 months and Charlie only 15 months old). By Tuesday afternoon Oli has developed an occasional cough. Tuesday evening they are both coughing. Efforts are made to try to isolate these 2 from the rest of the blackies. It’s difficult. There’s only so much room.
By Wednesday it is apparent that the boys definitely had contracted some sort of bug. Probably kennel cough. They are both coughing…..a lot. As well their appetites have decreased. They are started on antibiotics. Could be a pain keeping them separate from the rest for the next week I thought to myself.
Thursday brings more bad news. The eldest, Juri, is now coughing and not eating much. One by one over the next 3 days the entire crew comes down with it. To make matters worse, Oli and Charlie are very sick. Much sicker than I would expect from a regular old kennel cough bug. They have spiked fevers and are becoming dehydrated. Coughing is severe and breathing is harsh and fast. They repeatedly spit up phlegm and have no energy. Saturday morning I put out a feeler in a Facebook forum populated by dog show people. Anyone else from the
Perry show have sick dogs? The response was much more than I had anticipated.
This was big. There were a lot of sick dogs out there including ones hospitalized in the isolation unit at UF. Some of the other BRTs that were at the show were sick too! Quick call to Arisha’s handler – she’s fine. No symptoms whatsoever. Thank God. I perform a PCR upper respiratory panel on the last to come down with the sickness – Nika. She tests positive for H3N2! It is what I had feared. The dreaded canine influenza virus. Treatment was done at home as the virus is way too contagious to have the dogs at our hospital. We have what I would imagine what a croup ward at a hospital would sound like! The dogs just lay around coughing and spitting up phlegm. They are miserable, and sound worse. Ten big strong Black Russian Terriers have all been brought down in a matter of days. My wife called me one night while I was attending a meeting for the local emergency clinic. “It’s Maks.” She said. “I think he’s going to die. He can’t catch his breath and is just laying on the floor coughing up phlegm”. What a sick, helpless feeling knowing there is nothing more you can do for your companion. We were giving fluids, cough suppressants and antibiotics by the case load it seemed. Fortunately, all the bears would go on to recover, but it was a lot of work and very scary at times. We weren’t sure they were all going to pull through. We are now over 2 weeks out and the appetites have finally started to come back. There’s still coughing but it has decreased greatly. Oli has lost over 15 pounds! Not good for a growing boy. Also, it had cost thousands of dollars in medications to treat the crew – and we own a veterinary clinic. This is bad.
So just what is H3N2?
Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) H3N2 is an influenza virus of avian origin that jumped to the canine species in Asia (primarily South Korea and China). It becameclinically significant in the USA in 2015 when an outbreak occurred in Chicago. It spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and within 5 months had spread into 21 states according to Merck Animal Health. Cornell University reports that CIV is transmitted by close contact with an infected dog, often in a restricted space such as an animal shelter, day care center, or boarding kennel. Casual contact is less likely to be a factor mainly due to the relatively low amount of virus shed by an infected dog. Virtually all dogs are susceptible regardless of age or breed. The AVMA adds that there are 2 forms of the disease recognized. A mild form presents as coughing, nasal discharge, decreased appetite and sometimes pyrexia. This is very similar to kennel cough complex and can be hard to distinguish from such. Secondary bacterial infections are common. The severe form of the disease will bring about a high fever and pneumonia. Mortality has been reported by the AVMA to be less than 10%. Usually recovery will take 2-3 weeks. Affected dogs can shed virus for almost a month.
So what if I show dogs? What should I do now?
First thing, you must decide what is right for you and your situation. If staying home for a few weeks while this bug hopefully sorts itself out is something you can do, then that is not a bad idea. If you plan on attending a dog show in the near future, there are some strategies you can try to help decrease exposure risk for your dogs.
Second, I would strongly recommend the H3N2 vaccine for any dog going to be showing this year. An initial injection followed by a second booster in 2-4 weeks will help provide protection for your dog. While the vaccine may not outright prevent infection, it will decrease the severity of disease and lower the risk of severe complications such as pneumonia. The vaccine will also reduce shedding should your pet become infected which in turn decreases the chances of passing it on to another dog.
Third, try to avoid the crating areas and grooming areas if possible. Areas where large numbers of dogs are housed together for extended periods of time increase exposure risk. Groom and prep your dogs at your RV or hotel if possible. Take your dogs to the ring, avoid letting your dog socialize with other dogs waiting to enter rings, and remove your dog from the building as soon as possible.
Fourth, make sure you are washing hands frequently and keeping your dog equipment clean and disinfected. Wash food bowls and spray down your show leads and collars. It is not a bad idea to change clothes when you are done showing for the day and put on a “clean” ensemble before handling and feeding your other dogs. You don’t want to carry this virus from an infected dog to an unaffected dog.
If possible, show your dog’s own bite. A judge that handles a dog’s mouth and then moves to the next dog without proper disinfecting can be a transmission hazard. Most judges should be aware of this.
Last, when you leave the show, try to disinfect your “show” equipment and supplies before bringing it into your home or kennel. Not a bad idea for a quarantine of the show dogs away from the ones that weren’t shown when you arrive home as well. If this virus is picked up by your dogs at a show and brought home – it can spread through your kennel quickly!
I sincerely hope this flu outbreak will die down in short order and be nothing but a memory. However, it will help if we are all diligent and cooperative in trying to halt its continued spread. If your dogs are sick, or have been exposed to sick dogs, leave them home. It’s the best thing to do – for the dogs and the sport.