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National outbreak of dog flu virus hits Long Island City

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Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

An aggressive strain of dog flu has Queens canine owners worried ― especially those in Long Island City, where many dogs have been affected.

Pet owners in the Facebook group DOG LIC said their dogs have been excessively coughing after visiting the dog spa Pooches Sport & Spa on Center Boulevard. Several members in the group said an outbreak of kennel cough, a highly contagious respiratory disease, may be the culprit but Pooches owner Bruce Barlin said canine influenza H3N2 is the cause.

“It’s definitely not kennel cough,” Barlin said. “This is a totally different strain.”

According to a report by NPR, this virus was brought from South Korea to the United States last spring and has caused outbreaks in 26 states. Dogs that contract the virus remain contagious for about three weeks; some show no symptoms.

Symptoms can range from cough, loss of appetite, sneezing, nasal discharge to high fevers, breathing problems and pneumonia.

Barlin said he became aware of the outbreak around Feb. 18 and soon after, he halted his doggy daycare and boarding services, offering only grooming and discounted dog walking services to limit the spread. He suspects that an infected dog entered the business and spread the flu after playing with other dogs.

“Whatever dog came in and it doesn’t show any symptoms,” Barlin said. “[The virus] incubates anywhere from three to 10 days. [The dogs are] jumping, saliva is getting on each other, they’re coughing. It infected one dog and took 10 days by the time I found out what was going on.”

The 2,500-square-foot facility is equipped with an epoxy seamless flooring system, which prevents bacteria from seeping into and contaminating floors and an advanced air filtration system, he said.

Dog owners who bring their pets to day care centers must have Bordetella shots, which is the bacterium that causes kennel cough. Barlin said that all dogs who enter his establishment are vaccinated and that Dr. Manning, the veterinarian at Long Island City Veterinarian Center, ruled out kennel cough as the culprit.

QNS reached out to Dr. Manning and is awaiting a response.

Nancy Mendez, a member of the Facebook group, said her dog was vaccinated but still got the virus.

“My Percy got sick too and was up to date on all of his shots,” Mendez said. “Apparently, as per LIC vets, the doggies can get it from another dog regardless if they’re vaccinated. It’s like the flu vaccine; it only protects against certain strains.”

Barlin said that Pooches is “back to regular business” but the outbreak affected his business. The pet care business takes in about 60 to 80 dogs a day on average, but dog owners were hesitant to bring their dogs to Pooches during the outbreak.

“I wouldn’t blame them,” Barlin said. “The place is really nice, super clean. I’m very particular and careful … this is the first situation I’ve ever had.”

According to Michael San Filippo, a spokesperson for The American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs in the United States have only been recently exposed to the H3N2 virus, so they have not built an immunity to this strain.

Though this strain is not more severe than the well-known H3N8 virus, San Filippo suggests that owners take their dogs to a veterinarian as a precaution if they see any symptoms.

“It’s important to let your vet know, to give them a heads up if you think your dog has the flu,” San Filippo said. “They might want to help the dog limit exposure.”

He also added that vaccines are available for both strains and that dog owners should discuss with their veterinarians if the shot is right for their dogs.

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