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Canine flu outbreak hits Cumberland Co. animal shelter

Canine flu is one of several respiratory diseases that are highly contagious between dogs.

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — Speranza Animal Rescue in Mechanicsburg went into “crisis mode” on Tuesday when all 50 of the dogs in its care were suddenly sick: lethargic and coughing, with runny noses and no appetite.

The shelter had an outbreak of canine influenza.

Canine flu is one of several respiratory diseases that are highly contagious between dogs. Another common condition is known as kennel cough.

Speranza’s founder, Janine Guido, said the flu had come from a dog recently transferred from a different facility in Philadelphia. Despite quarantine procedures, the virus spread.

“It’s one of those diseases that’s going to be in large groups of populations: rescue facilities, boarding facilities. Just like our kids at daycare, a lot of kids or dogs in one area, it’s just easy to spread these respiratory diseases back and forth,” said Dr. Kevin Schmidt, co-owner of Patton Veterinary Hospital in Red Lion.

Dr. Schmidt says he had seen just a few cases of canine influenza in the last few months. Most infected dogs don’t come in, he said, because canine flu is rarely fatal. It can, however, cause serious complications.

“One of the risks that come with a virus like the flu is it also makes them prone then to secondary bacterial infections,” he said.

At least three dogs at Speranza needed to be hospitalized because they developed pneumonia. In a video update posted on Wednesday, Guido said the dogs were in “pretty rough shape.”

“It’s really, really scary to have all the dogs sick like this,” she added.

No dog fatalities have been reported, but as of Thursday, many remained sick, according to an update posted online.

Speranza has raised nearly $57,000 to help cover veterinary bills.

Owners concerned about their dogs can get them vaccinated for canine influenza, though it’s not usually recommended unless the dog spends a lot of time at a kennel or doggy daycare, according to Schmidt.

“If they’re going to be around a lot of other dogs, then it’s definitely a good idea to get that vaccine,” he said.

Schmidt also recommended owners concerned about canine flu avoid high-contact areas with their dogs, such as dog parks.

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