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Sonoma County kennels taking preventative approach to ward off dog flu

This year, flu season isn’t just affecting humans, it’s hitting their dogs, too.

Three dogs have been diagnosed with the flu in Sonoma County so far - two of them from Napa and a third from the North Bay that may have been infected in Fresno, said Jessica Irwin, a manager at VCA Animal Care Center in Rohnert Park, where the dogs were tested.

The onset of the virus, and potential for high-cost treatments at the vet, has a number of North Bay dog boarding facilities taking a preventative approach: requiring that owners have their pets vaccinated before bringing them in.

That rule went into effect Thursday at Santa Rosa’s K9 Activity Club, where they have had zero cases of the flu this season, said co-owner Alicia Collins.

“I’m not horribly worried about it,” Collins said. “I don’t think it’s a pandemic or something horribly scary. Dogs are kind of like kids. They catch colds and viruses just like people do, and dogs are more social now. ... Anywhere that dogs can meet up with other dogs, they should probably be vaccinated to prevent spread.”

Like with the human flu, the canine flu is spread when dogs come into contact with infected dogs. The virus is a fairly new one, only first detected in 2004 in a population of racing greyhounds in Florida, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. About ?80 percent of dogs exposed to the illness will develop symptoms, though the mortality rate is less than 10 percent, according to the foundation’s website. The virus can live in the environment for two days and can exist on hands and clothing for up to 24 hours.

Petaluma’s Fit ‘N’ Furry Pet Resort & Training Center will require its clients to have their dogs vaccinated beginning Feb. 28.

“Some cases lead to death of puppies and senior dogs, like people - babies and seniors are most vulnerable,” said Grant Garl, who owns the boarding facility. “That’s why we want to be out in front of this. In one way, it makes one more hurdle to come and bring pets and there’s a risk of losing business. But on the other hand, we don’t want to be informing people after the fact that we should have told people there’s a virus going around and now your dog is terribly sick.”

The vaccine, which comes in a pair of shots - the booster administered two to three weeks after the first shot - costs about $25 to $27 per shot and is available at most general animal care providers.

Pet owners who suspect their dogs might have come down with a case of the flu should contact their animal care provider, said Matthew Dekleva, a veterinarian at Adobe Animal Hospital. Tests are available to accurately diagnose the flu.

“Call the vet right away,” said Dekleva, whose facility has administered more than 90 vaccines since Jan. 1, when the hospital began to stock the vaccine. “I would tell them if you suspect it’s the flu. It’s contagious, so we don’t want people coming in the front door and in the waiting room. … The vet can take whatever precautions - take a side door or do an exam outside.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com.

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