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Hawk Creek shelter receives grant for dog flu vaccination

WILLMAR -- A new grant will help the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter vaccinate shelter dogs against the emerging threat of canine influenza virus.

The shelter received the grant as part of a Foundation program to build community immunity against this respiratory infection.

Canine influenza virus is a highly contagious disease that spreads easily from dog to dog, especially those in close proximity. It also can be transmitted by playing with toys or drinking from bowls used by other dogs. People who come in contact with infected dogs can unwittingly spread the virus as well.

This emerging virus is a variant of type A influenza but does not spread from dogs to humans.

Because canine influenza virus is relatively new, most dogs have no immunity to it. Virtually all dogs who are exposed to it will become infected, and some will develop more serious infections, such as pneumonia, which are sometimes fatal.

Canine flu can especially be an issue in animal shelters, where one sick dog can cause an outbreak through the entire facility.

Immunizing shelter dogs also has implications for the overall health of the dog population in the community, said Liz Neuschatz, director of the Foundation.

"Shelters and rescue organizations are often the first places that new diseases already in the community become evident," she said. "Dogs come in from the community and are released back into it, and often move to and from states with confirmed cases."

Dogs also can be exposed to the virus in settings such as boarding facilities, doggy day care or dog shows.

To date, there have been no laboratory-confirmed cases of canine flu in Minnesota. Its incidence has been growing nationally, however, and cases have been confirmed in 35 states so far.

Because dogs are contagious before they show any symptoms, diagnosing it can be difficult. By the time a dog starts exhibiting signs of being sick, such as coughing, it's often too late to prevent exposure to other dogs.

Neuschatz said the goal of the grant program is to protect at-risk dogs and to offer assurance to people who adopt a shelter dog that their new companion will be healthy.

The program is a partnership with Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health. Schering Plough manufactures the only available dog flu vaccine, which was approved last summer by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.