Veterinarians in central Ontario are raising alarms about a confirmed outbreak of canine influenza.
“By this point, we have over 25 confirmed positive,” Dr. Scott Weese, a University of Guelph veterinarian who specializes in infectious animal diseases, told CTV Barrie. “So these are sick dogs that have been tested and we found this virus.”
According to Weese, the actual number of infected animals is likely above 100. The outbreak -- the worst of its kind in Canada to date -- is occurring around the central Ontario communities of Orillia, Bracebridge and Gravenhurst.
According to Weese, the outbreak likely stems from a shipment of rescue dogs from Asia.
“We’re suspicious that this group of dogs, these infections, trace back to the importation of a dog from China,” Weese said.
The outbreak follows two earlier but smaller clusters of cases in southwestern Ontario’s Windsor-Essex County, which were also linked to imported rescue dogs from Asia. Weese cautioned that dogs in the vicinity of Grimsby, Ont. may also be at risk.
Also known as dog flu, canine influenza is a highly infectious virus that, much like its human variant, causes fever, coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite and runny noses and eyes. While relatively common in Asia, the virus is extremely rare in Canada. It cannot, however, be transmitted to humans.
There are vaccines available in Canada that protect dogs against the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine flu which can reduce the risk of transmission or severity of illness.
In an advisory to veterinarians this week, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture says that given the ongoing risk of further introductions of dog flu from imported dogs “vaccination is recommended for dogs at high risk of exposure in areas with confirmed cases.”
Cindy Kerr’s kennel in Severn, Ont. has been hit especially hard by the outbreak. She believes one of her customers’ dogs came into contact with a dog that had been imported from China.
“It was the 19th of February when I got a phone call from one of my clients saying that their dog was coughing,” Kerr said.
Kerr, who has voluntarily shut down her kennel to help contain the outbreak, is now calling on the government to impose stricter rules and quarantine periods for imported animals.
"All of our issues here are because infected dogs came from Asia,” she said. “That needs to be dealt with at a government level.”
If your dog exhibits symptoms of canine influenza, veterinarians are urging you to keep your animal away from other dogs and dog parks for a full month.
If you plan to take your ill dog to a veterinarian, be sure to contact them in advance so they can take precautions to avoid exposing other animals to the virus.
With a report from CTV Barrie’s Beatrice Vaisman