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Arf-choo! Flu bug could bite dogs, Petaluma vets worry

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All it takes is one sneeze, and your pooch could land in the dog house this flu season

At least that’s what Petaluma kennel owners and vets fear as the highly-contagious canine flu — largely similar to the virus that’s hitting the humans of Sonoma County — has been detected in the South Bay. The flu is spread through nasal secretions or by objects or people who have been in contact with infected dogs, and can cause fever, coughing, sneezing, chills and lethargy for man’s best friend.

The threat of influenza prompted Grant Garl, who owns west Petaluma’s Fit ‘N’ Furry Pet Resort & Training Center to require all dogs attending the facility to get the flu vaccine beginning Feb. 28. Until that mandate kicks in, staff are rigorously cleaning facilities and pumping in fresh air to eliminate airborne germs, he said.

“Some cases lead to death of puppies and senior dogs, like people — babies and seniors are most vulnerable,” he said. “That’s why we want to be out in front of this. In one way, it makes one more hurdle to come and bring pets and there’s a risk of losing business. But on the other hand, we don’t want to be informing people after the fact that we should have told people there’s a virus going around and now your dog is terribly sick.”

Garl said he’s aware of two other Petaluma canine boarding facilities requiring the vaccine.

Meanwhile, local animal hospitals haven’t seen any reported cases in Petaluma but vets are asking dog owners to find out if the flu shot is right for their dog. Those most at risk are dogs that spend time at grooming or training facilities or around other pooches at dog parks, said Angela Smith, who owns Petaluma Veterinary Hospital.

“I think it really boils down to the dog’s lifestyle … if the dog is out there and social, then yes, I think (the vaccine) is something to consider,” she said.

Vaccines are administered in two courses several weeks apart from each other. It takes seven to 10 days to take affect after the second shot, she said.

Though vaccines might not eliminate the possibility of a canine catching the flu, they can reduce the risk of contraction and lessen the severity of symptoms should a dog fall victim to germs.

Her clinic hasn’t vaccinated dogs for the flu before this year, and began stocking the shots a few weeks ago, she said. About 75 of the initial vaccines were given in the first two weeks, she said.

Canine influenza H3N8 was first detected in 2004 in a population of Florida’s racing Greyhounds, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. The other prominent strain, H3N2, was first detected in the U.S. in March 2015 following an outbreak of respiratory issues in the Chicago area.

About 80 percent of dogs exposed to the illness will develop symptoms, though the mortality rate is less than 10 percent, according to the foundation’s website. The virus can live in the environment for two days and can exist on hands and clothing for up to 24 hours.

There’s no current evidence either strain can affect humans, according to the foundation’s research.

Pet owners who suspect their dogs might have come down with a case of the flu should contact their animal care provider, said Matthew Dekleva, a vet at Adobe Animal Hospital. Tests are available to accurately diagnose the flu.

“Call the vet right away,” said Dekleva, whose facility has administered 57 vaccines since Jan. 1, when the hospital began to stock the vaccine. “I would tell them if you suspect it’s the flu. It’s contagious, so we don’t want people coming in the front door and in the waiting room … the vet can take whatever precautions – take a side door or do an exam outside.”

Dogs already under the weather can be given medicine to lessen symptoms. The majority of infected dogs show mild forms of the flu, but a cough can persist up to 21 days, even with treatment.

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)