Canine Influenza

I had such high hopes for the USASA Nationals at Purina Farms, partly to see my dogs show, partly to see my friends and do a bit of husband shopping for my girls, but mostly to get a photo with most of the dogs I own or co-own from my kennel.  My dear friend and canine photographer extrordinaire Amber was coming and I am a regular.  I used Amber before she was Amber is what I like to say.

The photo in my head was not what it turned out to be, my obedience titled dog refused to sit or stand, Every one was looking the wrong way.  We were all hot, Amber had a huge group of people waiting for their photos.  I was just irritated that the one photo I wanted and no one would cooperate.  Was it that hard?

Hard to believe that within three days every dog in that photo was fighting for their lives along with their other family dogs.  My pets, my show dogs, my everything was in the balance.  This so so photo of my bratty dogs was a moment frozen in time when my world was exploding and I did not yet know it.

People that know me would tell you I try to do right by my dogs.  I put my dogs on extra immune boost the weeks before heading out.  I am always cautious any ways and was surrounded in the grooming area by friends who are equally as cautious – we were just going to have FUN. 

One of my co-owners Alex, was sharing a room with a friend who she sometimes helped with at shows.  Her puppy Ali is her first show dog and her constant companion.  On Thursday the dogs were in their crates while we were at the banquet and when we got back Ali was breathing weird, we all looked at each other and went “Kennel Cough.”  A nearby handler had some robittussin and we dose her and headed out.  The friend Alex had been rooming with had left the day before as her dogs had started exhibiting signs of kennel cough, so it made sense.  Ali got it from her dogs, my dogs as well as those of my other co-owner Lorraine  were possibly going to get it.  I told everyone around us we had a cougher just so they could watch out – again not thinking ANYTHING more then that.

We made the decision to skip Best of Breed and leave, figuring that no one but our dogs would get Kennel Cough.  I told all my friends around me and we took off.  On the way home my matriarch Bummy started this reverse sneeze.  Lovely.  Just lovely.  I called my vet office on Saturday as my puppy Bacon needed his rabies booster and made an appointment for him and Bummy to be seen.  She is 11 so instead of just doctoring her kennel cough at home, I figured might as well have her seen.  Appointment scheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 pm, no reason to hurry, it was “just” kennel cough.

I was busy working, trying to catch up on email when Alex called Monday morning.  Her puppy had a 106 temp and was very ill – her vet said Canine Influenza.  I stopped and thought “No way!  This vet is over reacting, it  has to be kennel cough.”  I opened up Facebook and I saw a post on The Dog Show Forum from a competitor, who is also a vet, who said he was pretty sure his dogs got canine influenza from Perry, GA dog show.

My life literally stopped as the fragments put together a puzzle I never wanted.  Ali was in a room with coughing dogs that had been at Perry.  My reality shattered.  I took Bummy's temp - 103.3!!!   I called my vets office, they said drive in. Like something from a bad sci-fi movie I took Bumble Bee in my Prius to the vet, they had me park in a corner and my vet came out.  He was rolling his eyes.  I mean it always happens to ME, do everything right, dogs still get into some mischief.

He examined Bummy and as he said all we can do is treat the symptoms and gave me antibiotics and cough meds.  At this point neither of us really believed it was Influenza.  It was so out in left field.  We even talked about the fact I may be able to show in the next few weeks.  I drove home feeling like I had this under control.

I look back and have to laugh.  The nightmare rollercoaster had just begun.

CIV Part 2 Things Go South

Armed with meds I got Bummy home and got to contacting everyone around me.  Even at this point, reading other stories my head could not wrap around how dangerous this could be.  I still was even thinking I might be able to show again soon.  The few friends I told were equally as skeptical as me and maybe even more.  How random could this be, what was canine influenza – was it just kennel cough?

That night two more of my dogs got sick and my heart sank.   Now all of my dogs that had been at the show were sick (I think everyone but Bumble Bee got it at home or the drive home).  And now my co-owners’ dogs were all getting this.  I wish I could tell you the order and when but cannot, they just started going down like dominos.

As dogs added to the sick group I needed more meds as they all needed supportive meds and cough medicine.  At this point it was confirmed there was Canine Influenza at the shows so we had to make a medicine change as the cough medicine had steroids in and there was a concern that it could suppress their already taxed immune systems.

I was half dead at this point.  I was aimlessly walking the aisles of my local grocery store when my friend Kim called.  She literally gave me a list of things to buy for the dogs.  I had barely slept, I had been trying to work while taking care of the dogs and it was taking it’s toll on me mentally and physically but worse then that, I was losing control of the dog’s coughs.  I called my vet and we made yet a third tweak to the meds for the dogs.

While all this is going on I had been in contact with our Parent Club president.  I had been hesitant to go public because I did not want a panic but at the same time people would start going to the big Memorial Day shows and people needed to know this was more than pesky kennel cough.  My dogs at that point all had symptom.  Everyone was coughing or had elevated temperatures, my co-owners’ dogs were all getting sick and I told our president I think we all needed to go public.

Our President put out a notice and I turned back to my dogs.  The coughing had gotten REALLY bad.  The 24 hour period with the second cough meds was a huge step backwards, I had temperatures climbing, breathing was irregular, they were shedding weigh in front of my eyes.  They were no longer eating well so I had to start trying other food.  I probably spent $500 at the grocery store, crock pot chicken, hamburger and rice, Mac and Cheese, cottage cheese whatever I could get into the dogs.

That night I had two dogs go over 104 temperatures.  That was the threshold for pneumonia which is what had the most devastating consequences.  With losing control of the cough, my dogs were coughing up phlegm and trying to keep meds down became a challenge.  Let me explain, when you cannot control the cough, it is hard to keep meds down.  When you cannot keep meds down temperatures rise, coughing gets worse, the dogs begin to dehydrate.  They feel even worse, so they stop eating and drinking and they spiral down.  This is when they get pneumonia and have to be admitted into ICU at a facility that can handle contagious diseases.. 

This happened to one of my dogs.  At 2pm Bacon was doing fairly well.  At 2 am Bacon was barely conscious.  This puppy is my heart, I have been told we have an invisible umbilical cord between us and he was very sick.  Not only was he coughing up phlegm, he started coughing up his food.  He could not hold water down.  He just laid there and vomited and vomited.  I watched him struggle to breathe, I could see the pain he was in.  He hurt from coughing, he hurt from vomiting.  He just looked at me so sad.  Pain.  Exhaustion.  And there was nothing I could do but hold him and beg him to keep breathing.

I was afraid to go to sleep.  I called the local emergency animal hospital – they told me I could not come in, there was nothing they could do.  I literally was sitting there with my puppy praying he would not die.  Watching every labored breath hoping it was not the last.  I laid on the floor next to him and told him to keep fighting.  I was so exhausted but I did not want to fall asleep because I was sure I would wake up to a dead dog.  Maybe even dead dogs as another of my dogs seemed to be on the way to the same spot.

Finally, sheer exhaustion took over and I fell asleep, I woke up three hours later to the sound of more dog vomit, but more importantly Bacon was still alive.  I let him out of his crate and he sadly wobbled out to go to the bathroom, none of my dogs jumped up.  They were all so sick.  They laid their listlessly and one by one went outside and then came back in.

My go-to dog taxi was my Prius so I bundled Bacon into the car and got to the vet at 7:30 am.  Some joggers went by and he barked at them – I had never been so happy to hear him be a brat.  A t least he was alert.

We met my vet outside again (we were not allowed inside) and he gave Bacon fluids and anti-nausea meds.  It was then we came up with a plan of what to do after hours.  While it was a big negative I needed a definitive scale of when to head to the state vet.  It was a dose of reality I needed, it comforted me that we had not reached that yet and the fact Bacon was bright enough to actually bark made me feel better.

As my vet said, my dogs looked and sounded horrible, they felt horrible but we were not in grave danger - YET.  And my job was to make sure they never crossed that line.  I went home, went back to work and hoped the new cough meds would begin to help the dogs.

My co-owners and I had been texting and calling each other and so we had been bouncing ideas of each other.  One of them mentioned Hydrocodone and so I discussed this with my vet.  I kept thinking these dogs were exhausted, if I could knock them out to sleep more I thought they would feel better. As he said, there was nothing stronger we could give but it was worth a try.

I had a break in meetings and ran to the store, I wanted to try rotisserie chicken with Bacon.  I could not get him interested in ANY food and I needed food in his stomach.  I went over to the pharmacy and gave them the prescription the Pharmacist informed me that they did not have tablets and that it may be hard to find.  I turned into a sprinkler as I just fell apart.  As only someone from the south understands, the lady rushed to my side to give me a hug.  The whole story spilled out and then there were multiple people crying with me and a nice lady overheard and stopped in her tracks and grabbed my hand and the group of us began to pray.  To have random strangers stop and pray for my dogs gave me a glimmer of hope.

The pharmacy started calling around to local pharmacies to see if they had any of the tablets and another worker went to the deli to get my chicken.  This little act of kindness made me feel so much stronger.

Once I got home I started ripping the chicken apart and tried feeding Bacon.  He turned his nose up at first but the smell got to him and he turned his nose toward me and I stuck a piece in his mouth.  I got him to eat 3 or 4 pieces.  I was too afraid to hope but at that point it was at least not a dead end.

The next few days the dogs were up and down.  I was giving Bacon sub qs.  My cough medicine bill alone was $50 a day but the temperatures all started to go down, first under 103.5 then under 103 and then finally went down to normal temps.  We had turned the corner.  I was too afraid to believe we were out of the woods but it did seem we were trending to recovery versus hospitalization.

CIV Part 3 What Worked

In no particular order, here are things that I found worked with the dogs.

 

Food.  Their throats hurt, their lungs hurt and it was imperative to keep them eating.  I had crock pots of chicken breasts going, ground beef and rice, Mac and cheese and sliced meats from the deli.  I rotated so they would not get bored.  A couple of the dogs had absolutely no interest in food so I tried rotisserie chicken and that did the trick.  I shoved some yummy skin in Bacon's mouth and he could not resist.  They did not like food COLD, room temperature or warm worked the best.  I wonder if it was easier on their throats.

Small Meals.  I fed everyone 4 or 5 times a day and found it helped keep food down.  It also assisted with the meds that required food.  Once I switched to this the vomiting was only phlegm and not food. 

Fresh, cold water.  I rotated water buckets through my dishwasher and changed buckets every few hours to keep the freshest water in front of the dogs.  I found that they always drank when the water was fresh so I put a mark on the outside of the bucket that was my "fill line" and then went through and made sure they were drinking.  Water intake was crucial.

Crate pads.  I had never used them before but the dogs were almost always in their crates so they were getting stiff on regular blankets.  I pulled my Impact crate pads out of my car/show crates and put them down for the dogs.  It was MUCH easier to clean up the phlegm and it was cool for the dogs.  Every time they came out to potty I would disinfect the pads.  Once I switched the dogs seemed less sore and rested more comfortable.

Crate separation I Separated the crates with sheets to keep everyone from coughing into other crates and give them each their own den.  It did not assist in containing the outbreak but they seemed more comfortable.

Dim lights.  For some reason they were more comfortable without the lights on so I only allowed enough light so I was not stumbling around.  They seemed to be more comfortable without a light on.

Humidifier/Dryer.  I had a humidifier going 24/7 and again I have no clue if it helped but they were much more relaxed with it on and also the dryer seemed to keep everyone relaxed (my dog room is in my huge mud room).  I am not sure if it was just the white noise or what but Stinger especially would relax better when it was going.

Vet Plan.  When Bacon crashed I was alone with no plan.  That day I met with my vet and we had a plan.  Knowing specific criteria to head to the State Vet made it easier for me to handle.  We decided that 105 temperature was when I would leave for Raleigh.  There was no guesswork, I knew clinically what I needed to look for and it was a great comfort.  A communication plan was vital to me.  My vet and I were emailing all the time and again this helped me stay ahead of the game.

Medications.  This is not a Robitussin and Benedryl treatment.  We went through 3 combinations of meds before we got the right one.  When we switched cough meds that's when my dogs health rapidly declined.  You lose the cough, they cannot hold down their meds, lose the meds the fever and cough get worse and worse.  That's how you end up at 2 am with an unresponsive puppy.  After that I got fluids and injectable Cerenia for the nausea.  I was able to keep the dogs hydrated and stop the vomiting.  Once I stopped the vomiting they kept meds down.  I was able to turn them around and am now very good at giving sub-qs!  (Our medications that worked were doxy and Tributurol with Hydrocodone at night)

Charting.  I took everyone's temperature twice a day.  We had it down to a science.  Once they had a normal temperature for 2 days we discontinued their antibiotics and then tapered their cough meds (4 times a day then 3 times a day, to morning and evening, then to just evening)  I had everyone charted and then sent it to my vet.  Temperatures fluctuated at first and then as they got better I could watch them trend downward. 

Crate Covers WORK  All of the dogs near my set up that had crate covers did not get any symptoms of CIV.  An obedience dog in a crate adjacent to my set up that was in the crate maybe 20 minutes came down with the virus.  Can I say for sure crate covers protected the other dogs?  No.  I can say all the other dogs around us that had crate covers did not get sick.  I am in the process of having crate covers made for mine!

 

 

 

CIV Part 4 - Fear

Whenever there is an emergency you see some people running from the incident and others running towards it.  Most of those running into danger are first responders and heroes, a small percentage are those who enjoy getting to the edge in some kind of secondary thrill.  I found this true in this outbreak of influenza.

Personally, my dogs are public.  I am active on social media and the dogs are in the front, I find it a way to let people see show dogs as pets.  The president of my parent club called me a Social Media Influencer which made me laugh - I mean I barely listen to myself.  I cannot imagine anyone actually following in my footsteps.  My life should have a warning label.  And none of my friends are very impressed with me and my influence LOL.  Yeah I told one that and she looked at me like I was insane.  Yeah I agree.  I am just having fun with my dogs.  Your Mileage May Vary.

So when my dogs got sick and there was not even a doubt in my mind not to share this.  I mean if it was not for a few others like Richard Hawkes and Edy Blum, I would have had no idea what to expect.  We were in the first wave of this so there was no manual on what to do.  I have many friends that are vets and only one had dealt with influenza and that was almost a decade ago. 

I figured social media was a way to network and so I went public and through going public I made contact with others.  Between those contacts and my co-owners we all tried to wade through this and come out the other end.  I admit while things were bad I lived in a vacuum.  Literally I did not know what day it was.  Trying to work full time and take care of dogs left little time to think.

Many of my friends called or texted just to check in.  There were some noticeable absences of people I truly thought would be there, but again I did not have time to take inventory of who contacted, who texted.  People have lives and while this was MY crisis, it was not theirs.  It was not until I came up for air it really hit me.  Dead silence.

After really thinking about it I realized that some of the first people that checked on me were in it because of some kind of high they get from a crisis.  All of a sudden they acted like they were in the know and were right there next to me.  It was strange to read a stranger using my dogs to push their agenda.  And not just my dogs other dogs too.

People started saying that this was *just* kennel cough and only dogs that were already with compromised immune systems could get it.  Two weeks covered in dog vomit has a tendency to bring out a side of you that only the Exorcist usually can achieve.  When one women told me that my dogs would not die because Merck told her that I literally felt my head spin.  The night before I had been up with Bacon, my dogs were really sick and some random person who had NO sick dogs felt that she could comment on MY situation?  I realized later it was fear.  She needed to tell herself that this was no big deal, her dog was out showing and so her fear had her convinced that thie flu was not as bad as what people were saying.  I get that now - at the time?  Yeah not so much.

And of course the conspiracy people also came out.  People were calling my VET, emailing my vet in hopes to get confirmation my dogs were sick (I still have no earthly clue why I would make this up).  My vet emailed at least one of them back and said basically they were not currently treating CIV in their facility (a truth, as my dogs never went in, I got all care in the parking lot) and that they would not comment on the care patients received.

This became the "smoking gun" that I was lying.  That my dogs were not sick or some were sick or hell I don't know I was faking this.  They contacted people and spread this ridiculous story.  I realized later again it was fear.  Fear that this disease could rapidly go through an entire kennel.  Fear that dozens and dozens could be exposed to this by just one dog.  If they denied my dogs were ill, then this meant that there was less of a chance for their dogs to get ill.

Still not sure exactly why I would make this up but I dutifully contacted my vet to get a letter that said he treated all of my dogs.  As he said - who wants a letter saying their dogs are SICK?  We also came up with a code word so they knew it was me when I called.  I cannot fathom why anyone would even think to contact my vet.  I mean just ask ME, I would have been happy to discuss this.  But again discrediting me and my dogs being ill I think in their minds meant that their dogs would be safe.

And honestly I take no position on showing or not showing.  I support my friends who chose to stay home, I support my friends who are showing.  I don't think we need to be Chicken Little nor an ostrich with our head in the sand.  Make an educated decision that works for YOU.  People tried to get me to condemn people.  I would just say 'do you think for a moment if I thought XXXXX's dogs were in danger I would sit idly by?'  I mean these were dogs I loved, owned by friends.  I know and trust these people to do right by their dogs.  Again this is a decision people need to make for themselves.  PERIOD.

I guess really there is no point to this.  In the end I probably would go public again even knowing what I know now.  I say I would not after some of these insane things, but I seem to say that and do something else.  But I will say I have many bumps and bruises from some of the backlash.  I know there are people right now reading this and looking for meaning that is not there or combing through everything I have written to discredit me.  I know it and I am okay.  Why I decided to not write this for a magazine.  I did not want to compromise what I wanted to say and how I would say it.

Really what I hope is that people will take this and make an educated decision for their dogs.  Have a conversation with your vet to determine if your dogs should be vaccinated.  I just hope that anyone else that gets this diagnosis can read this and see that there is hope.  Our story is not complete.  We have a lot of rehabilitation that needs to be done.  I am not sure if my dogs will ever be able to show again.  But all I asked them was to BREATH and they are doing that.

The rest will be what it will be

CIV Part 5 - Random Musings

  1. First symptoms were either a reverse sneeze or a cough.  Then temperatures climbed and then within 24 hours it got really bad.  My last dogs barely got a cough out and theywere on meds and getting their temperatures taken.  They were also the lightest cases.  Was it because I caught them fast and on the right drug combo  - I don't know.
  2. I already mentioned the crate covers but I will mention them again.  We were surrounded on all sides by dogs at the show, the ONLY dogs that were directly exposed from my dogs did not have crate covers.  Yes I am having crate covers made!
  3. Many of the sick dogs seem to be coated breeds.  My guess is that it is because they are in the grooming area the most, exposed the most.  It makes sense, not sure it is correct but it makes sense.
  4. Exposure varies.  On the day that our puppy came down with this, she showed in her 9-12 puppy class where the judge checked bites.  She then played in a pen with another puppy friend.  NONE of these dogs came down with CIV yet a dog two crates down that was near her 20 minutes did.  There is no rhyme or reason.
  5. My sickest dogs for the most part were from the show.  I have a friend in the health industry, as she said - Showing is stressful.  Their immune system was stressed.  Two of my sickest were at the show, Bummy had a mid-range case.  Only one of my dogs from home had a serious case.  The others were strong cough and elevated temperatures but not as extreme.  Memphis was as sick as Sting and Bacon, he was home.  No clue why - he and Sting are inseparable so he stressed that Stinger was gone?  Who knows.
  6. Vaccinate or no vaccination?  Honestly I see pros and cons.  I think the best decision is for people to talk to their veterinarian and make an educated and informed choice.  Their is no right answer for all, just a right answer for you.
  7. While sick, everyone stopped shedding and as they got better the fur was flying?  That became my telltale sign because I was cleaning crate pads multiple times and it went from vomit to nothing then to hair and then HAIR.  Was it from the fevers that they stopped shedding?  No clue but as they began to shed I would breath a sigh of relief.
  8. The biggest lesson in all this I learned is to never again be complacent when it comes to kennel cough.  We all roll our eyes.  We all know it happens.  I think that is what the cause of this was - people thinking it was JUST kennel cough.  Then it was too late.  When I got home I did not quarantine because I though it is "just" kennel cough.  We had no clue at the time that the flu was around.  Never again.
  9. We all need to be more aware at shows.  We all need our own version of "See Something, Say Something"  COughing dogs mean you are escorted out.  The people around you need to be told.
  10. Somehow we need to make it *safe* to report sick dogs.  Not sure how this would happen but thank goodness for Social Media.  I believe Facebook literally saved dog's lives. 
  11. The number of dogs dignosed vs dogs that have the flu is not even close.  In my group of 17 only one dog was tested.  Why?  Well her test was $300 (I have seen the cost vary from $35-$300).  All of our dogs had the same symptoms and our vets all agreed the lab result was unneeded when we treated the same.  Yes, it makes people upset but in my case I would have to bring in 7 sick dogs (I was using my Prius as the dog ambulance and that would mean multiple trips) and my vet was charged $150 by the lab.  It made no sense to me to spend almost $1000 to get a diagnosis for something I already knew (although I guess it would have shut up those who thought I faked this).
  12. A huge shoutout to Purina Farms.  We alerted them and they jumped into action.  I have told people if I had to go to a show right now Purina would be the place.  They tracked where the dogs who got sick had been located and did an extra cleaning.  I cannot give them enough credit.
  13. None of what I write should be construed as medical advice - this is just my story of what worked for MY dogs.  Everyone should talk to their vet and make an informed decision on what is best for their dogs.  I am not a veterinarian, nor play one on TV or stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.