LOS ANGELES - Four dogs that were kenneled in the South Bay area tested positive for canine influenza, which is highly contagious and potentially fatal, a veterinary group announced Friday. The positive test results are believed to mark the first confirmed cases of "canine flu" in California, according to Dr. Jon Bernstein, of Ber-Mar Pet Hospital in Inglewood, who treated the affected dogs.
Bernstein said he received test results Thursday from a Florida laboratory showing that four dogs he treated this summer -- including a 2-year-old Rottweiler that died -- tested positive.
The link between the four was a "common boarding facility" in the South Bay, the veterinarian said.
Dr. William Grant II, of Community Veterinary Hospital in Garden Grove, said he has treated "probably 60 dogs" that he suspects had canine flu.
He said he is awaiting test results on blood samples that were sent in from about four or five of the group of dogs, which had all been boarded at an Orange County kennel.
"It was like a firestorm. It came and it went," Grant said of the suspected outbreak, noting that there have been no long-term effects in the dogs he treated.
The Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, which was sending out a "canine flu alert" to its more than 1,200 members, has received reports from both Los Angeles and Orange counties of suspected cases of canine influenza virus.
In the alert, the association warns that "canine influenza is considered to be highly contagious in canine populations and clinical signs may last from one to three weeks."
Symptoms can include coughing, fever and nasal discharge, with a fatality rate ranging from 1 to 10 percent, according to the alert.
Bernstein said he grew suspicious after seeing a "cluster of dogs with respiratory problems" in August and September, and sent samples for testing.
"I've seen it in young, old, small and large (dogs)," he said.
Pet owners can take precautions, including avoiding areas where dogs come into contact with each other, such as dog beaches and dog parks, both veterinarians said.
The new virus -- for which work on a vaccine is under way -- was first identified in racing greyhounds in Florida, and has since been identified in several other states.
Authorities said canine flu has not affected humans.