Increase in ‘dog flu’ cases in Michigan raising concerns for traveling Hoosiers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Veterinarians around the Great Lakes are seeing more cases of dogs getting sick. They're coming down with canine influenza, and the highest number of cases are in Michigan.

Earlier this month, Michigan officials raised concerns about the growing number of dog flu cases, especially in the southern portion of the state. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said there were 49 confirmed cases of canine influenza since mid-July, compared to only nine cases in the entire state during 2017.

Veterinarian Mary Oxley, who works at VCA Village Park Animal Hospital in Carmel, said she hasn't seen any patients with the flu, but understands why it has spread more and more.

"People travel with their pets more and more," said Oxley. "There are dog parks, beaches, events that people are taking their animals to, too."

Today there are two strains of the dog flu. Dogflu.com reports both strains have been reported in Indiana this year.

One strain became big nearly 15 years ago, after the flu was found in greyhounds at racetracks in Florida. The new strain became an issue for more than 1,100 dogs around Chicago back in 2015. It's this strain that continues to get passed around easily today.

Since the virus is relatively new, dogs haven't been exposed to it and haven't built up antibodies to defend it.

"It’s in the respiratory secretions," Oxley said. "So a cough, a sneeze, even barking, it will spray out as aerosolized."

That's why dog owners should talk to their veterinarian about the flu and find out if their pet is at a high risk for the virus or not. A veterinarian can recommend a vaccine to help protect the dog's health.

Not every dog is at a risk.

"Ones that don’t have a great immune system, they are at risk of developing severe symptoms," Oxley said. "So, very old pets, pets on chemotherapy and very young pets or puppies."

A spokesperson for the Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) said it’s difficult to accurately keep track of the number of dog flu cases in the state as veterinarians use a variety of labs across the country to test for the virus. She added the state doesn't have a central lab of its own for testing.

A year ago, the BOAH warned Hoosier dog owners about the growing number of dog flu cases in nearby states. At that time, it said Indiana had only had a handful of confirmed cases.

Oxley said the flu has also caused many boarding businesses to require vaccinations before a dog can be housed at a facility.

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