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Dog flu outbreak puts strain on pet owners, local shelters in Texas

Kelli Fabick of Ellisville, Mo., held her mother's Australian silky terrier, Zoey, as veterinarian Sarah Hormuth gave the dog a flu shot last April. The dog flu strain H3N2 is now circulating in more than two dozen U.S. states.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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TNS via Getty Images
Kelli Fabick of Ellisville, Mo., held her mother's Australian silky terrier, Zoey, as veterinarian Sarah Hormuth gave the dog a flu shot last April. The dog flu strain H3N2 is now circulating in more than two dozen U.S. states.

An outbreak of dog flu has canines spreading the disease across North Texas.

Like humans, dogs with the flu may have a cough, runny nose, fever or a reduced appetite. Dog flu is rarely fatal but highly contagious, according to Lori Teller, who specializes in veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University.

"They're sniffing each other, they have close contact, they may be licking each other, and so it's very easy for the germs to be spread that way," Teller said.

Symptoms don't always show immediately, she said. It commonly spreads in kennels, dog parks and other communal areas for dogs.

There is a vaccine against dog flu, and Teller said pet owners should consult a veterinarian to get their pets vaccinated. Giving animals human medicine for their symptoms is a dangerous practice that is, in her experience, common.

"We will see people give cough medicine or pain relievers, decongestants to their pets, and many of those have severe side effects, sometimes to the point of being deadly," Teller said.

Local shelters are feeling the pressure as they manage an influx of dogs being brought in.

In a press release last week, Dallas Animal Services expressed a need for adoptions and foster homes for the nearly 200 dogs in their care that have been exposed to the flu. DAS is offering gift cards for those who foster dogs for 14 days or more.

Because of the number of exposures, the shelter had to isolate exposed dogs on one side of the building.

"What we really need for our shelter is to ensure that we're not crossing our exposed dogs that don't have already been exposed to these with the new incoming population," said Marlo Clingman, a spokesperson with the city of Dallas.

DAS is confident in handling the situation, she said, as only five dogs out of 101 tested were positive for the flu this month.

However, Clingman said managing dozens of dogs brought to the shelter every day to avoid further infection puts a strain on operations.

As for dog owners, they can protect their pets in some of the same ways humans have protected themselves against COVID-19.

"It is important to keep them quiet and rested, hydrated and isolated so that they're not spreading it to other dogs and developing secondary infections from bacteria they pick up, or pneumonia," Clingman said.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org.

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Dallas Animal Services was offering gift cards for those who adopt dogs from the shelter. Gift cards are only available for those who foster a dog for 14 days or more.

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Toluwani Osibamowo