PetSmart says it’s temporarily closing PetsHotels in Evanston and two Chicago locations to protect pets from the spread of the canine influenza virus.

In a news release, company officials said they’re contacting owners of all pets currently staying in these three PetsHotels in an effort to have them picked up.

Any pets remaining in the Lincoln Park location will be transported to the other two locations, where pets showing symptoms have been isolated from the general population. The Lincoln Park PetsHotel is expected to re-open on Sunday, April 5 following a rigorous disinfection process and inspection. The remaining two hotels, in Evanston and Chicago’s South Loop, will not be accepting additional pets until further notice.

There have been multiple reports of canine influenza spreading in the area. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, canine influenza, also called dog flu, is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by a specific Type A influenza virus. Common symptoms include cough, runny nose and fever.

“Because of the highly contagious nature of canine influenza, we have made the decision to proactively close these three PetsHotels out of an abundance of caution,” said Dr. Robyn Jaynes, a veterinarian and director of services quality assurance for PetSmart. “The key to minimizing the spread of this virus is isolating and treating pets that are showing symptoms, while limiting the exposure of healthy pets to other dogs.”

Pets that cannot be picked up by their pet parent will be monitored around the clock by a PetSmart associate. If any pets in the PetsHotels are showing symptoms, medical treatment will be sought immediately.

“We want to do what’s right for our pets and our pet parents, and these closures are in the best interest of our community,” said Gregg Scanlon, senior vice president of Store Operations and Services for PetSmart. “We’re going to do everything we can to help contain the spread of this virus and ensure the pets in our PetsHotels receive the best care possible.”

Update 11:20 a.m.: The Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control is cautioning dog owners that a recent increase in reported cases of canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) could last for several weeks before it subsides.

Dr. Donna Alexander, CCDARC administrator, said voluntary reporting to the Department of disease surveillance conducted by veterinarians has identified more than 1,000 cases of CIRD, or canine flu, unrelated to “kennel cough”, as well as five fatalities. CIRD is distinguished from kennel cough by its severity, possible consequences and diagnostic confirmation.

The age of the animals presenting with CIRD symptoms vary, but more severe forms are being seen in dogs under 1 year of age and greater than 7, she said.

Symptoms include persistent and lingering cough, lethargic behavior, a poor appetite and a fever. If you observe or suspect your dog may be suffering from any or all of these symptoms, the animal should be seen by a veterinarian, Dr. Alexander said.

Additionally, she recommended that until incidents of the disease diminish, dog owners should avoid pet friendly areas such as dog parks, not allow their dogs to play with other dogs, avoid group dog training activities, and, if possible, not board their pets. Dogs can be contagious even if they are not showing any of the CIRD symptoms, Dr. Alexander said.

While CIRD is highly contagious for dogs, it is not contagious for humans or other household pets such as cats. However, the virus that causes CIRD can live on fabrics and hard surfaces and can be transmitted from person to dog if the person has come into contact with a dog carrying the virus. To avoid such transmission, Dr. Alexander recommends thorough hand-washing after touching or petting a dog.

A vaccine that counters CIRD is available and can be administered by a veterinarian. This vaccine is separate from the kennel cough vaccine.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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