Should I be concerned about the Canine Flu? I heard there is a vaccination, does it work?
Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) is a recently recognized respiratory infection for dogs. This influenza virus is labeled as subtype H3N8, which is not the same as the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus commonly known as the “swine flu.” CIV is highly contagious to dogs, but is not transmitted to people or cats. There have been some cases of CIV in Pennsylvania, but it is not common in the state at this time.
The most common signs seen with Canine Influenza Virus are a soft, gagging cough and sneezing with discharge from the nose. Dogs often have a persistent cough that lasts for 2-3 weeks. Most dogs recover from CIV without any complications, but approximately 10% of dogs will develop a bacterial pneumonia from the virus. If pneumonia develops, it usually happens within the first two weeks of infection. The common signs of a developing pneumonia are fever, trouble breathing, and an unwillingness to eat. Pneumonia is very serious, and can be fatal if not treated properly.
There is currently a new vaccine available to help prevent Canine Influenza. This vaccine helps to prevent the virus, but like all vaccines, does not completely eliminate the chance that your pet will contract the virus. However, if your dog does contract CIV, prior vaccination will help to decrease the severity of the disease and reduce the risk of pneumonia. The CIV vaccine is given as a two vaccine series. The initial two vaccines are given 2-4 weeks apart, and then given as a yearly vaccine thereafter. The vaccine series can be started as early as 6 weeks old.
Current vaccine guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommend vaccinating dogs that are at risk of exposure. This means that the vaccine should be given to animals whose lifestyles expose them to a large number of other dogs. For example, animals that are in shelters, taken to boarding facilities, doggie daycare, grooming shops, dog shows, and agility trials would all be at a higher risk of contracting CIV. If there is an outbreak of CIV in your area, your local veterinarian may also recommend the vaccine even if your dog does not routinely come into contact with other dogs. In order to best decide if your dog should be vaccinated against Canine Influenza Virus, speak to your local veterinarian.
Thomas Schaeberle, V.M.D.