Los Angeles Animal Services is advising people to get their pets vaccinated against a rare-in-these-parts flu from Asia, which has the potential to spread rapidly.
The sometimes-deadly H3N2 virus is suspected in 34 canines being housed by a San Fernando Valley rescue group that brings rescue dogs from China to the United States, according to the city agency. "We're on high alert," says Jeremy Prupas, the city of L.A.'s chief veterinarian.
So far the virus has been confined to that group, though other pets have potentially been exposed, he says. "While most of the dogs exposed will become infected, none of the vets in the area have reported any other dogs with the virus," Prupas says.
He says H3N2 is new to Southern California; it was the source of an outbreak in Chicago in 2015 and 2016. Most pets will "exhibit a cough that persists for 10 to 21 days despite treatment with antibiotics and cough suppressants," according to L.A. Animal Services. The canines also exhibit high temperature and sneezing. Rare worst-case scenarios include pneumonia and death, Prupas says.
"The virus is spread via coughing, barking and sneezing, as well as contaminated objects (kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes)," according to Animal Services.
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Unfortunately the virus spreads fast and pet owners might not be aware their dog has it. It can remain active on surfaces for 48 hours, according to city animal officials. "When a dog is most likely to spread it, it has no signs yet," Prupas says.
The good news is that most canine flu vaccines cover H3N2. They require two shots two to four weeks apart.
If owners suspect their dog is infected, they should see a vet and keep their pups away from others, Prupas says. Animal Services officials are particularly fearful the virus could reach the shelter population, which would cause a vast outbreak. "This has the potential to spread quickly," he says.
It might seem like a strange time of year for the influenza, but Prupas says there is no flu season for canines.