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Dog Flu Spreading Fast Across U.S., Vets Issue Guidelines

Animal health officials share what dog owners should know about the virus and what to do if their pets come down with it.

A highly contagious strain of canine influenza has sickened thousands of dogs across the United States and continues to spread, according to information recently released by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The AVMA reports that the outbreak started in Chicago during April 2015, and is due to the H3N2 strain of dog flu.

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"Like most disease, canine influenza will hit hardest on the oldest animals, the youngest, and those that are being challenged by other contagious diseases," Jim Evermann, a professor of infectious diseases at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, said in a press release issued by Washington State University.

Washington is just one of more than 25 states grappling with the problem now. Some experts even think that the virus has traveled to more than 40 states.

"For that reason," Evermann added, "we are advising all dog owners to check and make sure their animals are up to date on their core vaccines that include canine distemper, canine parvovirus, and canine adenovirus. The healthiest animals will suffer the least with this disease."

The AVMA reports that fewer than 10 percent of dogs die from canine influenza, but it can lead to fatal cases of pneumonia. Most dogs recover in two to three weeks, but given that lengthy period of time, it is understandable how the illness can take its toll on elderly, young and other vulnerable dogs.

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H3N2 is one of two viruses that cause flu in dogs. Another strain, H3N8, was first documented in the United States in 2004. H3N8 is closely related to a virus that affects horses, so it is thought that H3N8 mutated to produce the canine strain.

H3N2, on the other hand, is thought to have emerged in Asia, given that many cases have been reported in Korea, China and Thailand. Animal health experts believe that an avian influenza virus in these countries directly transferred to dogs. They suspect that could have happened in markets where live birds are sold.

Pets Can Transmit Infections To People

The AVMA notes that dogs sickened with either strain of the virus fall into one of two types of case: mild or severe. Symptoms of the former include a cough that can persist for days. It may be accompanied by reduced appetite, fever and reduced energy. Sneezing and eye and/or nose discharge may result. If the owner observes thick nasal discharge, that is likely due to a secondary bacterial infection that can affect the weakened flu victims.

The severe form of the illness can lead to high fever - 104 degrees F. or more. Respiratory effort, meanwhile, becomes challenged, and secondary bacterial infection could drive the onset of pneumonia.

The concern now is that H3N8 vaccines - the first of several antidotes was approved in 2009 - might not offer full protection against H3N2.

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Facilities that house multiple dogs are particularly concerned about the current epidemic.

As Texas veterinarian Luann Ervin told Tech Times: "It starts and it will move through an area like wildfire. It gets into the kennels, rescues and shelters."

Many sites, as a result, are stepping up disinfection procedures and are watching out for symptoms.

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Human health experts are also closely monitoring such viruses. While there is no evidence to date that they can spread to people, a prior mutation of H3N8 could open up that future possibility.

If your dog shows signs of the illness, don't delay in taking your pet to a veterinarian, experts advise. The vet will work to increase fluids to combat dehydration, maximizing your dog's natural immunity. An antimicrobial might also be prescribed to knock out any secondary bacterial infection.

DNA analysis, as well as historical information, is helping to reveal the world's most ancient dog breeds. A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, puts the spotlight on East Asia as being a primary origination point for dog domestication. The earliest known dog-like fossils come from Europe, but it is likely that these dogs did not produce large populations that led to distinctive breeds. Genetic research on existing dogs reveal that certain breeds stand apart from others. "Our results show that these breeds represent lineages older than modern European breeds, and in this sense can be considered as ancient," senior author Wiesław Bogdanowicz of the Polish Academy of Science's Museum and Institute of Zoology, told Discovery News. Afghan hounds fall into the ancient group. In fact, they were called "ancient" long before the advent of genomics. In 1925, an article published in "The Dog Fancier" had the declarative title: "The Afghan Hound Is an Ancient Breed." Canine experts at the time even thought that the dogs "entered the ark with Noah" and were the world's first ever dogs. According to the historical record, Afghan hounds date back to the pre-Christian era of northeastern Afghanistan. The original name for the breed, famous for its silken coat and fashion model thin build, was "Tazi."

Photos: The Earliest Dogs

Basenjis look remarkably like dogs featured in ancient Egyptian art. Drawings found in the tombs of the 2700 B.C. Great Pyramid of Khufu show such dogs seated near the feet of their owners, or under chairs. The cat-loving Egyptians might have taken to the dogs because, like felines, these canines tend to be relatively quiet and wash themselves regularly with their tongues. Most researchers, including Bogdanowicz and his team, still believe that domesticated dogs largely arose in Asia and migrated to other regions. "It is very likely that migrating populations of early farmers were followed by dogs," he said, explaining that these dogs were not feral, but were originally free-breeding. Basenjis possess a very distinctive suite of characteristics, which must have been maintained by human breeders. While the official breed only dates back 60 years, these dogs clearly have been in existence for centuries.

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Nearly all DNA studies of dogs find that Arctic breeds, such as the Alaskan malamute, stand apart from modern breeds. An extensive genomic investigation conducted by senior author Robert Wayne from the University of California at Los Angeles and colleagues found that Alaskan malamutes, as well as American Eskimo dogs and Siberian huskies, "are highly divergent from other dog breeds." This means that they have evolved on a slightly different path than other, more modern dogs. Wayne and his team added that "historical information suggests that most have ancient origins, greater than 500 years ago."

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"Saluki" is thought to derive from two early Sumerian words meaning "plunge-earth." What that means exactly, in reference to the dogs, remains a mystery, but it is known that Salukis were historically bred in the Fertile Crescent where agriculture is widely believed to have originated. Like Afghan hounds, Salukis tend to have long legs and a thin build. They are known as sight hounds, meaning that they hunt primarily by sight as opposed to by smell or other senses. Today, they are bred with coats in a veritable rainbow of colors ranging from red to tricolor (white, black and tan).

The Greenland sled dog, also sometimes referred to as a sledge dog, is yet another early East Asian breed. The recent DNA analysis conducted by Bogdanowicz and his colleagues "revealed post-divergence gene flow from grey wolves to Greenland sledge dogs," they wrote. This determination reminds that free-breeding dogs can still interbreed with wild canines, such as grey wolves, coyotes and golden jackals. The resulting offspring can be fertile, and conservationists are concerned that we may one day lose the uniqueness of wild canine species due to hybridization.

Oldest Dog Turns Out to Be a Wolf

Wayne and his team found that only two East Asian breeds, the chow chow and Akita, "had higher (genomic) sharing with Chinese wolves" than other breeds. Researchers can therefore see past wolf contributions to the modern dog genome. Other wolf populations noted in the dog DNA studies include those from North America, the Middle East and Europe.

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The Samoyed, as a distinctive breed, originated in Siberia, where nomadic reindeer herders bred them as sled dogs and to help with herding. Their historical past is much deeper, however, as these primitive dogs descend from an even earlier, founding population of Russian dogs. According to an American Kennel Club fact sheet, "Of all modern breeds, the Samoyed is most nearly akin to the primitive dog. No admixture of wolf or fox runs in the Samoyed strain."

Old Dog, New Origin: First Pooches Were European

The genetic analysis of Wayne and his team defined three basic groups of "highly divergent, ancient breeds." They are: *Asian group: dingo, New Guinea singing dog, chow chow, Akita and Chinese Shar Pei *Middle Eastern group: Afghan hound and Saluki *Northern group: Alaskan malamute and Siberian husky All of these dogs were found to be genetically "distinct from modern domestic dogs."

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Bogdanowicz and colleagues' study suggests that the Shiba Inu belongs on the ancient dog list. The DNA of this dog shows that it is related to yet another East Asian breed, the Chinese Shar Pei. The American Kennel Club, though, reports that "Shibas are considered the oldest and smallest of Japan's dogs." The AKC only officially recognized this breed in 1992, demonstrating that the actual origin of a breed can happen hundreds of years prior to such designations.

The word "spitz" refers to several different breeds that loosely share common ancestry and traits. They are believed to descend from very ancient dog populations. Bogdanowicz told Discovery News that he and his team "found that spitz-type breeds of European origin -- Keeshond, Elkhound, Finnish Spitz, German spitz and Schipperke -- are genetically distinct from other European dog breeds, suggesting that they may have a distinct origin and possibly may be related to spitz-type breeds from East Asia and the Arctic." A closer look at the friendly dog shown in this photo reveals many wolf-like characteristics, such as a dense and waterproof insulating coat. Dog breeders even categorize spitzes in a unique group that stands apart from the other umbrella terms that they often use to describe dogs: ancient, toy, spaniels, scent hounds, working dogs, mastiff-like breeds, small terriers, retrievers, herding and sight hounds. The spitzes are in a league of their own.

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