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Canine Virus Scare:
Racing Greyhounds Believed to Be Source
By Judy Kody Paulsen
(Excerpt from Fall 2005 issue of GCNM News)

Word of a mutating strain of respiratory disease in dogs has kept the media busy in recent months. When the story attracted the attention of The New York Times, the news began to spread as quickly as the virus is said to have. Reported to have originated in greyhound racing kennels in Florida, the virus has been traced to a strain which has infected horses for decades.

Greyhound Network News (GNN), the publication which exclusively covers news regarding racing greyhounds worldwide has been covering this story for years. Joan Eidinger, publisher and editor of GNN, has been diligently keeping an eye on this story. GNN reported in the Spring 2003 issue that the deadly epidemic had spread from Florida across the U.S.

Concerns of how the disease was transmitted from horses to dogs have created speculation, but the most credible theory at this time was suggested by Susan Netboy of the Greyhound Protection League, a national greyhound advocacy group. Netboy, a pioneer in exposing the inhumane conditions under which racing greyhounds live - and die - has long suspected the tainted meat fed to racers as the source for many ailments these dogs suffer. Raw meat, often contaminated with various bacteria and determined unfit for human consumption, is the main diet of a racing greyhound. The animal source for the meat can often not be positively identified and it is not unrealistic to presume meat from sick horses has been introduced into the food supply for racing greyhounds.

Initially thought to have been contained primarily to the east coast, the canine flu virus was soon discovered to exist in kennels as far west as CO and AZ. Each year, for at least the past three years, there has been a mandatory quarantine at racetracks in an effort to quell a nationwide epidemic. And each year, the disease spreads from east to west as greyhounds are transported from track to track prior to the quarantine being enforced.

Not just a greyhound disease, this virus can be contracted by any dog exposed to the virile pathogen. Experts believe that humans coming into contact with infected dogs can spread the disease to other dogs. If indeed this virus originated in racing greyhounds, its transfer to other dogs could have easily occurred through trainers and other racetrack staff touching infected greyhounds and then passing the virus along to their pets at home. Once an infected animal is introduced to a large population of dogs (as in a boarding kennel or animal shelter), especially if stress is a factor, as is often the case in facilities housing numerous dogs, other dogs can easily become ill.

Resembling common kennel cough in its initial stages, the illness will not produce severe symptoms in all dogs infected. The higher the stress level in the dog’s environment and the weaker the immune system, the more likely the disease will become a serious threat to the dog’s health. Greyhound racing kennels are notorious for stress-inducing stimuli. Overcrowded and often unclean, these kennels are perfect environments for the rapid spread of disease. Because many trainers continue to train and race dogs which have already contracted the virus, the immune system is compromised and vulnerable to illness. This practice has been responsible for the deaths of unknown, but likely high, numbers of racers from the respiratory virus, and other illnesses, as well.

At present, aggressive research is being conducted by virologists and immunologists who’ve created a team from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Currently, there is no vaccine for the virus. The Bordatella vaccine for kennel cough is ineffective in preventing this disease. Experts say an anti-viral drug used to treat flu in humans, Tamiflu, is likely to be effective in treating dogs for this new strain of canine flu, however its high demand this year for humans will decrease the possibility it will be available for dogs.

Word of this insidious virus has people wondering what they are to do should they suspect their dog is infected. It’s this simple: If your dog is coughing, get it to a veterinarian. Be sure your veterinarian is aware of this new canine virus, and knows what to look for. Nasal discharge, wet cough, high white cell count and high temperature are all markers of this disease, where they are not for common kennel cough. Symptoms usually appear within a week of exposure to the virus. Although there is no currently approved treatment for the virus, antibiotics to control secondary infections should be administered. Keep your dog in a calm, quiet environment to decrease stressors during recovery.

As for reports of this disease being transmitted from dogs to humans, there is absolutely no evidence at this time to suggest this has occurred.


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