Veterinarians and pet owners across the country are warning dog lovers to get their pooch vaccinated with a newly released drug after an outbreak of the canine influenza, or dog flu, quickly spread throughout most of the country.
“It was unreal. It was the worst nightmare that could ever happen,” dog show hobbyist Jodie Strait told Fox News. “I went to a dog show to show my dogs and I almost killed them.”
The dog flu, a highly contagious disease that could lead to infection and, in some cases, even death, has spread to at least 46 states.
Strait said in the spring of 2017, she took seven of her Calabrone Australian Shepherds to the Australian Shepherd National Specialty in St. Louis, Mo. Her dogs returned home sick.
“At the time we thought it was a simple case of canine kennel cough,” Strait said, “but within a few days all of my dogs were fighting for their lives.”
The virus spread quickly from one of her dogs, Bumble Bee, to the other six animals. They began showing symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, lethargy, decreased appetite and difficulty breathing.
“Sitting alone with a dog gasping for breath in the middle of the night was horrific and something I would not wish on anyone,” Strait said. “I told (the dogs) they owe me nothing. Just please, please keep breathing…Just breathe… I was one of the lucky ones – mine survived.”
After weeks of treatment, they all recovered. But six out of the seven dogs can no longer compete in shows. One dog, Stinger, has throat issues and his mother, Bumble Bee, has permanent lung disease caused by pneumonia.
“I carry tremendous guilt that my healthy and happy dogs got sick,” Strait said. “I do everything possible for my dogs and only by the grace of God are they with me.”
Since 2005, more than 2,000 dogs tested positive for Canine Influenza, according to Cornell University. Unlike influenza that impacts humans, canine influenza can spread at any time during the year and passes by direct contact with other dogs, nasal secretions and contaminated items.
“If you notice the signs, get in touch with your veterinarian, knowing that this can be a very serious disease and it can cause severe illness,” Dr. Jennifer Bonovich, a veterinarian in South Carolina, told Fox News. “Some cases do require hospitalization and it can cost several thousand dollars.”
A simple blood test can detected the virus within a week.
Strait says she can't stress enough how important it is for people to talk to their vet. She said some pet owners could mistake the signs of dog flu for something less severe, like kennel cough.
“Don’t just keep saying it can’t happen to you because it can. It can happen to anybody," Strait said. "It’s really scary and, honestly, the shot is way cheaper than the pet bill.”