Australian greyhound racing has this year experienced one of the most contagious strains of canine gastroenteritis in memory.
The virus has spread across much of the country, leading to race meetings being cancelled and the postponement of the Group 2 Horsham Cup.
Experienced trainer Matthew Clark and wife Bianca live on seven acres in the Gippsland town of Briagolong, and their property is one of many kennels to have been affected.
Since their property was struck by the virus in mid-March, Clark has since been approached by a number of trainers encountering the problem. And he has been more than happy to offer some advice.
“I think it’s important that trainers talk about how they deal with this virus because if it is managed correctly you are potentially only talking about two weeks of downtime,” Clark said.
“Because it is so contagious it’s paramount that people recognise the signs early to limit the spread. I was fortunate to get some advice from a fellow trainer who was dealing with it at the same time as me.”
Clark believes it is reasonable to expect most dogs will end up with the virus and that its not helping to play the ‘blame game’ when it comes to spreading the virus.
“We just have to deal with it and make sure our dogs are cared for.”
When did the virus hit your kennel?
Our first encounter was around four weeks ago. We had a dog who was flat within himself. A blood test at the vets the next day confirmed a virus that required antibiotics and rest.
At that point I never considered it to be the canine gastroenteritis until the dog in the kennel next to him became lethargic and vomited the next day. We isolated both dogs straight away and then had to isolate another two over the next three days. This left me with four dogs in my race kennels.
Once you isolated the affected greyhounds, did you continue to race your dogs that weren’t affected by the virus?
We had dealt with the cancellation of the Launching Pad (Matthew trains Catch The Thief and Playlist, who were considered two of the main contenders for the 2020 Launching Pad series) around the same time the canine gastro showed up in a couple of our dogs.
By isolating our sick dogs, I managed to continue to prepare our remaining four race dogs. Catch The Thief won at Sandown in best of the night time and we had another winner at Warragul, but not long after that, Playlist began to show signs of the gastro and it was at this point we decided to scratch him from The Meadows, as well as the dogs we had entered for Sale the next day, to allow the virus to take its course.
What symptoms did your dogs show and how long did the symptoms last?
- The symptoms I found from the virus included
- going off their food and vomiting up what they had eaten becoming lethargic and flat (generally not wanting to get off their beds)
- some instances of diarrhea.
The advice from my vet and other trainers were that rest was the only cure.
My vet advised that the virus was highly contagious through the animals’ feces. We are fortunate here that each of our race dogs has its own emptying yard, which helped to avoid contamination and spread of any virus.
I believe this was an important factor in getting over the virus in the most efficient manner. We made sure that the yards were picked up after each let out and the kennels were also hosed out each day and disinfected. Additionally, each time the dogs were let out, their kennel was mopped with disinfected, whether they were dirty or not.
Did you change what you fed?
We restricted our dogs to premium kibble for the duration of the virus which was generally around three days.
How have you transitioned your greyhounds back into work and normal diet following the virus?
After three to four days we were able to start to put dogs back on their conventional diet without the additives and after seven days their diets returned to normal.
After three to four days we began to put the dogs out in the galloping paddock which allowed them to exercise as much or as little as they liked.
Each dog was different in its return to full work. Some were able to be trialled seven days after getting it but most required 10 days. All varied in how long it took to return to their normal times. Some easily got over it and others clearly will need a few more runs before they are back to normal.
Overall, we found that all of our dogs lost weight during the virus but no more than a kilogram.
Did all of your greyhounds end up with the virus?
No, we had two greyhounds who didn’t end up with the virus. One bitch had almost completed a season and I think her immune system was strong enough to fight it off. She did go off her food but didn’t vomit or have diarrhea. Another was a young dog that had only had a couple of starts. He was spelling due to injury at the time the virus came through the kennel.
What advice would you give trainers with regards to this virus?
In my opinion, it’s important that trainers recognise the symptoms early to avoid taking sick dogs to the track. The virus is highly contagious and seeing how quickly it took hold of our kennel, I can easily see how it could spread through the industry.