- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

CHESTNUT RIDGE, N.Y. — A new canine influenza, or dog flu, is spreading steadily through the nation’s dogs, and experts say there is no vaccine available to curb the virus that has killed young and otherwise healthy animals.

“One-hundred percent of dogs will be susceptible,” said Edward Dubovi, director of the animal virology lab at Cornell University. “I would expect to see this infection moving thorough groups of dogs until a large percentage gets infected and there are a lot of immune dogs.”

Researchers said the virus that crossed over from horses to dogs is fooling many pet owners and veterinarians because its symptoms — a cough, low-grade fever and a runny nose — mimic a common, less dangerous bacterial infection known as kennel cough.

First found in greyhounds at racetracks in 11 states, the dog flu has been found in pets from New Jersey to California, but researchers do not know exactly how many dogs have died from it.

As with human influenza, dog flu is most easily contracted in gathering places such as kennels, dog shows, animal shelters, even dog runs in parks.

That has resulted in a lot of lonely dogs, as pet owners keep them home to avoid the flu.

The Best Friends Pet Resort and Salon here was forced to close its kennel for three weeks after more than 100 other dogs began showing signs of what turned out to be the new disease.

Several days after the kennel in Chestnut Ridge reopened, there were just six dogs in “doggie day care,” down from the usual 17, and just 50 boarding, down from 150, said manager Kelly Kurash.

The suburban New York kennel had closed Sept. 10 after staffers realized that the illness going around was not kennel cough. Dogs were sent home or to hospitals, and one sheepdog died a few days later.

“We knew we were dealing with something more serious,” said Deborah Bennetts, spokeswoman for the Best Friends chain, based in Norwalk, Conn. “It seemed to be spreading and some dogs were getting seriously ill.”

Tests on the dogs confirmed the new virus.

Cynda Crawford, a veterinary immunologist at the University of Florida, said researchers are getting positive readings on 30 percent to 40 percent of the blood and tissue samples sent in by veterinarians who think they might be treating a dog with influenza.

“He was extremely lethargic, having a hard time breathing,” said Margaret Ragi of Upper Saddle River, N.J., whose dog Curry, a bichon frise, was one sick puppy a month ago. “The life just wasn’t there in his eyes. We were really worried.”

Best Friends had the entire building disinfected and changed the air-conditioner filters. When the kennel reopened Sept. 30, some dogs were turned away. At the 42 Best Friends kennels in 18 states, “we’re not allowing any dog that has boarded within the last two weeks or has been at a dog show or some kind of group setting like doggie day care,” Miss Bennetts said.

Mr. Dubovi said researchers are at work on a vaccine, but it could be months before it becomes available.

Some vets fear another upswing in cases at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when, as in the late summer, many people go away and put their dogs in kennels.

Dog flu cases have been documented in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Washington state.

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