Dog flu may not be in Tampa Bay yet, but shots available

Northeast Animal Hospital veterinarian Mark Scribano, right, examines Norine Noonan’s standard poodle, Rhett, before giving him a canine influenza shot. Noonan’s poodles are in agility training around other dogs, which makes them high risk.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Northeast Animal Hospital veterinarian Mark Scribano, right, examines Norine Noonan’s standard poodle, Rhett, before giving him a canine influenza shot. Noonan’s poodles are in agility training around other dogs, which makes them high risk.

Lutz resident Carrie Pace couldn't protect her 15-year-old daughter from catching the swine flu last month. Sienna's sore throat and raging fever showed up before the swine flu vaccine hit town.

Riley, the family bichon frise, should fare better.

A highly contagious canine flu that showed up in racing greyhounds five years ago is slowly spreading to pet dogs around the country. The first case may not have hit Tampa Bay yet, but Riley is 14 years old, and Pace isn't taking chances.

On Wednesday, Riley got his flu shot.

"I hate bringing him in for shots. It's kind of disruptive for him," Pace said. "But I want to make sure he doesn't get whatever this is."

Dog flu, which causes coughing, fever and nasal discharge, stems from a virus common for decades in horses. In 2004, it somehow jumped to greyhounds at racetracks, showing up in Jacksonville and Miami. Eventually it spread to dogs in boarding kennels, parks and other places where dogs congregate.

It has never spread from dogs to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it can spread rapidly among dogs because it is so new they have not built up immunity to it. Most dogs, though, develop bad coughs for a few days then get better. Only about 5 to 10 percent develop pneumonia and die, the CDC estimates. Puppies and older dogs are more at risk.

"To my knowledge, we don't have any confirmed cases in Tampa or St. Pete," said Robert H. Jones, Riley's veterinarian. "But knowing how mobile my clients are, flying back and forth to the northeast, where it is endemic, and driving back and forth to South Florida, where it is endemic, it's only a matter of time."

When the first vaccine became available a month or so ago, Jones notified his customers that they can no longer board their dogs at his Carrollwood Community Animal Hospital unless their pets are inoculated in advance against the flu.

Requiring standard shots is common practice for boarded animals, because diseases spread quickly in kennels. Owners can even spread the virus between dogs on their clothes and hands.

Northeast Animal Hospital in St. Petersburg is taking a more wait-and-see approach, said veterinarian Mark Scribano.

While boarders must be vaccinated for common ailments like distemper and kennel cough, Scribano recommends the flu vaccine only if a dog gets lots of exposure to other dogs.

St. Petersburg resident Norine Noonan, active in dog breeding and training circles, had her standard poodles Abigail and Rhett immunized for $20 each on Wednesday.

Abigail, 8, and Rhett, 5, are performance dogs who attend agility and obedience classes two times a week.

"There are lots of other dogs there, and who knows where they have been?" Noonan said. "My dogs are very healthy and not in the high-risk class from an age perspective. But they are at high risk in terms of exposure to other dogs."

To learn more

For more information about canine influenza or the dog flu, go to www.cdc.gov/flu/canine.

Dog flu may not be in Tampa Bay yet, but shots available 11/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 10:33pm]

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