By Juliette Goodrich & Molly McCrea
Canine flu is now spreading rapidly in Southern California. Bay Area experts tell us it is only a matter of time before this virus moves further north into the Bay Area.
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Around 800 confirmed and suspected cases are reported. Seven dogs have died so far. Canine flu is highly contagious and is often misdiagnosed.
The Lacher family in Southern California nearly lost their dog and wanted to share their story with KPIX 5 and Bay Area viewers.
Brian Lacher always wanted a puppy, and the pandemic was the perfect time to have one. An adorable golden retriever named Blue came into her life.
“Blue is like a member of the family. We got it during COVID so it was obviously a very stressful time and I was working from home and the kids weren’t going to school. And Blue brought us all together, ”said Brian.
“He’s very, very lovable, very spirited,” said Monica Lacher, Brian’s mother.
When the restrictions subsided, the family went on a short weekend getaway and climbed Blue for a few days at a kennel that was highly rated on Yelp.
But when the Lachers picked up the 10-month-old puppy, something was wrong. Blue was very lethargic.
“I thought he was just tired of playing with all the different dogs, he’s just a puppy,” said Brian.
At home, Blue refused to eat or drink. When night came the nightmare began.
“Around two in the morning we heard that Blue was having that terrible cough,” Brian recalled. “It sounded like he was dying. It started with a cough and it became like he was gasping for air. “
“The puppy was clearly in distress, so my son wrapped him up to take him to the emergency room,” added Monica.
The urgent care was overrun with sick dogs. At Blue, kennel cough was misdiagnosed and sent home with antibiotics. But his condition continued to deteriorate and he continued to alert his family.
“He was basically lifeless, couldn’t get up. Wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, wouldn’t admit that one of us came into the room and stroked him, ”Brian recalled.
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His family took Blue to his own veterinary office where they did tests. Blue was eventually diagnosed with a strain of canine flu called H3N2.
“I had no idea that the canine flu existed,” said Brian. “I obviously knew about COVID and the dangers associated with it.”
With this current outbreak, most cases are linked to animal boarding or dog daycare. However, experts report that some dogs have become infected while walking, in dog parks, at the groomer or even at the vet.
The virus spreads when dogs come in close contact with one another.
“I would be very surprised if it doesn’t come to the Bay Area. For me, it’s just a matter of time, ”said Nicolette Zarday, medical director of the San Francisco SPCA Hospital.
She told KPIX 5 that the virus can be prevented with a vaccine against the canine flu. It requires an initial two doses about three weeks apart with annual boosters.
The SF SPCA pharmacy manager Edward Vallecillo had his two dogs vaccinated. Tempe, 11, and Kay, 10, are part of his family.
“I would be very sad and depressed if something happened to them,” said Vallecillo.
The pandemic lockdown has deterred many dog owners from freshening up their dogs, and while no vaccine is 100% effective, the more dogs vaccinated, the lower the risk for everyone.
“I would highly recommend it even if your boarding school does not recommend it,” said SF SPCA President Dr. Jennifer Scarlett.
Blue has made a full recovery and Brian has this advice for all dog owners.
“It would be wise of you to have your animal vaccinated and to draw attention to the canine flu,” said the young father.
The signs of canine flu include a runny nose, cough, and fever. But some dogs show no symptoms at all. Dogs can shed the virus for up to 30 days.
This type of canine flu is believed to begin in birds and spread to dogs, which was first observed in the United States in 2015. Shortly afterwards, we saw a massive attempt to vaccinate pets.
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There is no evidence that people get canine flu. But there have been some cases when cats got sick.