Canine influenza: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

Not all dogs need the influenza vaccine, writes veterinarian Lawrence Gerson, but he says those in contact with other dogs, such as those that spend time at kennels and shows, are more at risk and therefore may be good candidates for the vaccine. The vaccine is not associated with any significant side effects, Dr. Gerson notes, adding that owners should consult with their veterinarian when deciding whether to vaccinate for influenza. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Lawrence Gerson, V.M.D.

Fall is here and flu season is just around the corner. I visited my physician  and was vaccinated earlier in the week. Should your dog have one, too?

News reports about an increase of canine flu in Pennsylvania have prompted  calls to my office. Outbreaks in eastern and central Pennsylvania have  veterinarians on alert. First noted at greyhound tracks years ago, this  infectious respiratory disease was determined to be H3N8 influenza and thought  to be a mutation of the same virus in horses.

Vaccinations for canine influenza are not universally recommended at this  point. Inquiries at local veterinary clinics and emergency services have not  shown the canine flu to be a problem here — yet. However, owners who travel  with their dogs, especially to dog shows or field trials, might want to ask their veterinarians for advice on whether to vaccinate. Cats are not normally  affected.

The vaccine aids in decreasing symptoms and initially is given twice at a  three-week interval and then annually. The vaccine is safe to use without any  significant side effects.

Dogs infected with flu get a fever and nasal discharge. Pneumonia can follow  infection and has the potential to be fatal. Infections can be severe at a  kennel, veterinary hospital or animal shelter. Any coughing dog should be  examined by a veterinarian.

Isolation of infected or suspected dogs is critical, and outbreaks can be  controlled by preventing additional exposure. I have heard reports of dogs  getting ill from attending shows where widespread exposure has occurred.

To get a specific diagnosis, veterinarians can send samples to labs for  testing. Statistics from Cornell University show that 25 percent of suspected  dogs were positive for influenza from samples submitted by Pennsylvania  veterinarians.

Unlike people, who tend to get the flu in fall or winter, dogs have less  exposure in the cold weather. Spring would be my guess as to when canine flu  would show up. Once dogs start to visit parks and boarding facilities, the close  contact increases the potential for infection.

The regular kennel cough vaccine for bordatella is highly recommended for  dogs who go to kennels or have regular contact with other dogs at day care,  parks, dog shows or field trials. Canine influenza may soon be added to the  vaccines recommended for those dogs.

This potentially serious infection deserves to be watched carefully.  Vaccination and limiting contact with infected dogs are the best  precautions.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and  founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended  to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose  and treat individual pets. If you have a question you’d like addressed in Pet  Points, email petpoints@post-gazette.com. Please  include name and municipality or neighborhood.

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One Response to “Canine influenza: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?”

  1. Dinah says:

    Laura Russell – I have pugs 11 of them ranging from 1 1/2 to 14 years old. Several of them have mldeoed before (for Desert Schools Commercial, TV movie Maneater and for Petsmart. Several are marginally obedient (as far as pugs go!). All work for treats pug is one letter away from pig!

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