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Early in the summer, we were informed by University of Florida (UF) of the spread of Canine Influenza (H3N2) to Florida. They released a statement saying that there had been confirmed cases of the virus in Florida that had originated at a traveling dog show from Georgia. When the articles came out, UF sent us an informational fact sheet on what it was, how it is treated, what the symptoms were, how contagious, etc.
We didn’t think much of it at first, because the news articles that came out did not specify where in Florida the incidents had occurred and only detailed a small number of cases. Due to the type of situation it originated in, a dog show, we were not terribly concerned that those animals would end up in a shelter.
About a week later, there was an article with updated information that the exposed dogs had gone to a dog show in Deland, which is just about 30 minutes from our Sanford location and an hour from our Orlando location. At this point, we decided to be proactive and implemented an additional questionnaire for owners surrendering dogs.
The fact sheet questioned whether the dogs had been to any high-risk areas (boarding, daycare, dog shows, etc.), asked if they had seen any symptoms such as coughing or sneezing and whether they had been exposed to any dogs that were known to be ill. We kept a close eye on our dog intakes, but again, were not overly concerned about the exposed dogs coming in to the shelter.
Generally, dogs coming into shelters will break with kennel cough within 10-14 days from their intake date. Our shelter does not have a high incident of kennel cough and we rarely have more than a few dogs sick at any given time. Kennel cough is easily treated, but is contagious through coughing, sneezing or nose to nose contact, so it is important to isolate the dogs immediately.
On June 16, a dog that had only been with us for 4 days came down with symptoms of “kennel cough” at our Orlando location. She was moved to Isolation (as is protocol for any dog that breaks with kennel cough) and it was noted that she broke early in her stay.
Three days later, 3 additional dogs broke with a “dry, hacking” cough. At this point, it brought our total number of kennel cough dogs up to 7, which is higher than normal.
We decided, with the direction of our shelter veterinarian, to be cautious and we swabbed and sent out PCRs on a few of the dogs to test for the presence of Canine Influenza. Our Shelter Vet felt that the symptoms were presenting differently and far more rapidly than is typical to the traditional kennel cough we experience.
By the next morning, June 21, we had 11 more dogs that had broken with coughs.
We immediately went into a sort of “crisis management” mode and shut down dog adoptions and intake to prevent any further spread or exposure. We started to call our receiving appointments and reschedule them. We decided to vaccinate all dogs that had not yet broken with a cough for Canine Influenza. We swabbed an additional 9 dogs and sent out for testing. We set up an additional kennel area for isolating the dogs that had come down with coughs and added additional protocols, such as personal protection equipment (gowns and shoe covers), and bleach foot baths to our isolated areas.
We also started a spread sheet to keep track of all the dogs. The spread sheet detailed their intake date, the date they started showing symptoms, if they had been vaccinated, and any additional notes or symptoms.
All our dog volunteer shifts were stopped and dogs were completed isolated to their kennels. Anyone going in to the dog areas for any reason was to wear PPE and was not allowed to return to the front side of the shelter until they had fully changed clothing and washed thoroughly.
On June 22, another 9 dogs broke with coughs or were vomiting foaming bile (likely from hacking). At this point, we determined that there was indeed a severe outbreak of kennel cough or other upper respiratory illness and we turned our entire kennel area into isolation. We added signage and orange cones that blocked off access to the dog areas.
We established that all 48 dogs in our care were exposed at that time. The swab results for Canine Influenza were due back the next day so we began to prepare a press release to the community and response to media. We also laid out a plan to do a community vaccination clinic and had all staff vaccinate their own dogs at home.
On Friday, June 23, an additional 11 dogs were coughing bringing our total number of symptomatic dogs up to 36. We received confirmation of the PCR swab test from Idexx as positive for the H3N2 strain of Canine Influenza.
We immediately issued our press release to the community detailing that we had an outbreak of Canine Influenza, that all our dogs were sick and were being treated and that we anticipated being closed for an extended period of time for both dog adoption and intake as we cared for the current population of dogs. Media came to do interviews to make the community aware and to encourage vaccinations and involvement in stopping the spread.
In addition to issuing statements to the media and closing our dogs to the public, we also started treating all dogs for Canine Influenza regardless of their symptoms. We called all dog adopters from June 7th (well before the determined outbreak) until the time we stopped adoptions and advised them of the situation. If their dogs were sick in any way, we offered them free exams at our public clinic to get medication and if they were not sick, we scheduled them to come in for a vaccination for the H3N2 virus free of charge.
Over the weekend, another 8 dogs became symptomatic, bringing our total up to 44. We continued with our isolation protocol and documented all new symptoms. Dogs all had medical tracking sheets on their kennels to monitor their symptoms and appetite.
We came up with a plan for in kennel enrichment since dogs were not allowed out into the yards. We also started to deep clean and sanitize all areas of the shelter. We continued to monitor social media and reassured the public that our cats were still healthy and available for adoption as there had been no cross contamination and there is complete separation from the dog kennels.
On Sunday, we held a flu vaccination clinic for the public free of charge(thanks to a sponsorship from Franklins Friends).
On Monday, June 27, there was a phone conference with University of Florida. We had determined, per their official release on Canine Influenza, that we would quarantine our dogs for 4 weeks after the LAST dog broke with symptoms.
The veterinarian, Dr. Crawford, that we spoke with at UF offered a scientific alternative, feeling that a virus of this nature would not shed that long, and offered to sponsor a study for our dogs.
The study requirements involved us swabbing every single dog. The first swab would be 7 days after they were symptomatic and then every 4 days until each dog had 2 negative results. We agreed to participate in the study with UF to help them better understand the new flu strain and to help ensure that all our dogs were in fact negative before sending them back into the community.
Over the next week, 3 more dogs became symptomatic. This brought our total up to 47 out of 48 dogs. We started our swabbing process with UF and created a new spread sheet with details requested by UF.
We continued to monitor all dogs and isolate. We asked for community support in the way of canned dog food and enrichment items and received an overwhelming response. We continued to do updates on Wednesdays of the dog’s progression through treatment.
The first week in July, we could tell that the dogs were starting to feel better and felt that we were nearing some negative results. We moved dogs around to empty out 1 set of 10 kennels to deep clean, decontaminate and have a “step down” kennel for the cleared dogs to go in to. We also reopened our dog volunteers shifts with strict instructions as to where the dogs could go out, how they needed to be handled and what volunteers needed to do to prevent cross contamination.
We received our first dogs that had double negative results! At the point that the dogs started coming back with double negatives, we bathed them and moved them into our step-down kennels. Once they were in the step-down, they were treated as “clean” animals and there was no cross contamination between them and the dogs that were not yet cleared.
On July 13, we had enough dogs that had received double negatives to be able to reopen 2 sets of dog kennels to the public for adoption. We contacted the media again and let them do follow up stories on the dogs being cleared. We still had two sets of kennels that were isolated from the public and those dogs were kept separate.
On July 16, we had all dogs cleared with double negative results and reopened all sets of dog kennels. We have continued to keep intakes closed until our current population of dogs are adopted with a projected date to reopen dog intakes on August 1.
We were very fortunate to have our Sanford shelter remain unaffected. They were able to continue to serve the community by staying open to take in dogs that could not come into our Orlando facility.
We did have one dog that never broke with any symptoms and only had negative swabs.
Despite being in the middle of the sick dogs for his entire stay, Gunner never became ill. He was active and happy the whole time and was adopted shortly after we ran his story. He also happens to be named Gunner because he was shot in the hip before coming to us! We marketed his story as our “bullet proof” dog that not even the flu could touch and he found his forever home on July 15.
We learned a great deal throughout the whole experience. We have changed a few protocolsand now hang handsanitizer on each individual dog cage (in addition to the existing wall mounted stations) and we limit which dogs can go out into which yards.
We will continue to provide enrichment for dogs such as playgroups, but we will limit them to one kennel run of dogs at a time to minimize exposure in the shelter to other dogs. We are happy to report how well our dogs responded to treatment and are very proud of our staffs’ dedication to getting all our dogs healthy and ready to go to their forever homes. We cannot stress enough how important it was for us to be open and transparent throughout this process for the safety and health of our animals and those in our community.
We hope that we will not see the dog flu again in the future, but we feel better prepared to be able to handle any such outbreak after experiencing this process from the point of diagnosis through isolation, quarantine, protection of unexposed animals, decontamination, documentation and communication.
About The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando
The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando is a non-profit animal shelter located in Central Florida with two locations, one in Orlando and one in Sanford. We provide services for pets in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties and only accept owner surrendered dogs and cats. We are not government funded and are run solely through the support of our community. For more information on the shelter’s dog flu outbreak, contact Rachel Grow via email: Rachel@petallianceorlando.org.
Check out our other articles regarding the Canine Influenza Outbreak of 2017: