Outbreak of dog flu in Pasir Ris Farmway shelters

Veterinarians worry the dog flu is a new strain of the disease that animals have no immunity against.
Veterinarians worry the dog flu is a new strain of the disease that animals have no immunity against.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More than 500 dogs at shelters in Pasir Ris Farmway have been hit by dog flu, in what is the worst contagious disease outbreak here in recent years.

The canine influenza outbreak has forced at least six shelters to institute "lock-downs" at their facilities, and veterinarians worry that it is a new strain of the disease that animals have no immunity against.

The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a Facebook post that it had advised animal establishments to seek veterinary treatment for their dogs, and practise good hygiene and biosecurity measures to limit the spread of the virus.

AVA said the virus is not known to infect humans.

The outbreak was initially thought to be one of kennel cough, an upper respiratory infection that presents similar symptoms to dog flu.

Jireh Veterinary Clinic also put up an advisory on Facebook on May 8, alerting pet owners to an increase in cases of dogs showing symptoms of what was thought to be kennel cough, including chesty cough (with or without phlegm), laboured breathing, bilateral eye or nasal discharge, loss of appetite and fever.

The Straits Times contacted six shelters at Pasir Ris which said between 50 per cent and 90 per cent of their dogs showed symptoms of dog flu.

Veterinarian Teng Yi Wei from Barkway Pet Health has seen more than 30 cases from the shelters since late April. "Some of the shelters bring their serious cases to us. Some dogs have progressed to pneumonia or loss of appetite," he said.

Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter said "every kennel is having the same problem, but strong dogs are doing okay. They cough for a few days and it dies down".

Co-founder Mary Soo said the animal shelters in Pasir Ris started noticing symptoms around one to two weeks ago. Around 80 per cent of its 180 dogs came down with dog flu.

The situation has since improved but the shelter is still wary. It has not resumed the routine, volunteer-based dog walks but volunteers still turn up to help care for the dogs.

"We are letting the dogs have proper rest. We also put the dogs on supplements to keep them healthy," said Ms Soo.

Also at Pasir Ris, Mutts and Mittens said 80 per cent to 90 per cent of its 180 dogs were affected. "Dogs with compromised immune systems would be more affected, but so far we have not had anything serious," said a spokesman of the commercial boarding business which doubles as a shelter.

For now, no one is allowed to enter the premises other than the caretakers.

The outbreak has not been confined to dogs in shelters. Some veterinarians said they saw an increase in the number of privately owned dogs with dog flu symptoms.

Dr Enoka Bandularatne, who has a PhD in veterinary medicine, runs Woodgrove Veterinary Services. She saw five cases of privately owned dogs in the last two weeks. Her clinic is located in Woodlands.

The shelters have been giving the dogs antibiotics, and even honey to mitigate the disease.

Veterinarian Ong Shi Hui from Jireh Veterinary Clinic advised pet owners to keep their dogs indoors or restrict them to short walks for now.