By Luke Baynes
Kennel cough is quickly becoming the worst enemy of man’s best friend, with scores of cases reported by local veterinary centers and animal hospitals over the past month.
But unlike past outbreaks in Vermont of canine upper respiratory infections, the recent surge in kennel cough cases can be partially attributed to canine influenza virus.
“Kennel cough is more of a syndrome than a specific diagnosis,” explained Dr. Joel English, a veterinarian at River Cove Animal Hospital in Williston. “We attribute, and most people associate, kennel cough with Bordetella, which is a bacterial infection. But there are a lot of different things that can potentially create the syndrome, and on that list is canine influenza.”
According to a 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, canine influenza is a newly emerged pathogen in the canine population that is believed to have been caused by the H3N8 equine influenza virus, which jumped species from horses to dogs. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted to humans.
English said River Cove has seen as many as 50 cases of kennel cough in the past four weeks. He recommended that dog owners immediately contact a veterinarian if their dog shows symptoms such as coughing or sneezing.
“It’s very important to intervene early and get the antibiotics started to prevent the pneumonia that can follow,” he said.
Dr. Ryan Canales of Long Trail Veterinary Center, located in Williston’s historic village, estimates that he’s treated 30-40 cases of kennel cough since Christmas. He said that none of the dogs in Long Trail’s boarding facility have shown symptoms.
“If an owner calls and says they have a dog that’s coughing, we would bring them in through the back, not through the front office,” Canales said. “We wouldn’t bring them anywhere near the boarding part of the hospital.”
Ericka Canales, practice manager at Long Trail Veterinary Center, said LTVC will hold a canine influenza vaccination clinic from Jan. 28 to Feb. 9. The canine flu vaccine is different from the more common Bordetella vaccine, which is often recommended for kenneled dogs as a preventative measure for the bacterial form of kennel cough.
Williston-based Gulliver’s Doggie Daycare, in conjunction with Essex Veterinary Center, is planning a canine flu vaccine clinic for Gulliver’s customers on Feb. 9. Amanda Poquette, Gulliver’s general manager, said her staff is also asking pet owners to help prevent the spread of kennel cough by keeping sick dogs in the house.
“Any dog showing any kind of symptoms we’re asking them to stay home,” Poquette said. “If we find that a dog is already in our care and starts to show symptoms, we isolate them from the other dogs right away and call parents. Like kids at school that are sick, we ask them to come pick them up.”
Amy Haskell, owner of Show Me the Biscuit! dog training center in Williston, said her facility has avoided an outbreak of kennel cough by not accepting dogs that have been boarded in the past three weeks.
“When we heard about it, we took precautions not to get other people’s dogs infected, and that meant restricting the dogs who could come in the building,” Haskell said.
Dr. English speculated that the recent canine influenza epidemic could have been triggered by the large number of rescue dogs that have been shipped to Vermont of late.
“Our local community is not very local when it comes to dogs anymore because of all the rescues,” he said.
But English added that it is too soon to fully evaluate the likelihood of future canine flu outbreaks, or whether the canine influenza vaccine will become as commonly administered as the Bordetella vaccine.
“What we have to do now is really evaluate (the canine influenza vaccine’s) effectiveness and what the relative risk is going forward to identify whether it’s worth using or not,” English said. “That’s the big question right now, is do we need to start considering this as a vaccination that we include as one of our non-core vaccines.”