Guest Post: Should Your Dog Get the New Canine Flu Vaccine?

Tis the season of hurricanes, tornadoes and the flu and I'm delighted to welcome Dr. Susan Wright to guest blog on the topic of canine flu. No need to panic; she's got all the facts in hand. Read on...


IMGP0926A The media has been full of information and advice about influenza lately. First equine flu, then swine flu, and now canine flu. It's not hard to understand why people become alarmed about diseases such as influenza, when they spread so rapidly and may be fatal. In the last few days, Canine Flu cases have been confirmed in Virginia, New York, Colorado, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So what should you do?

In June 2009, The United States Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine against canine influenza; however, if you spend some time researching the disease, you'll discover that canine flu may not be as big an issue as you may think.

Vets first identified canine flu in 2004 in Florida, but it is thought that it was prevalent in racing greyhounds from 1999. The virus seems to have evolved from the similar equine influenza virus.

Canine flu is quite a new disease, so most dogs won't have any immunity to the virus. Approximately 80% of dogs exposed to the virus will fall ill. The remaining 20% of dogs, although showing no symptoms, are infected and may still spread disease.

Dogs pick up the virus from the sneezes or saliva of dogs who are carrying the infection. It may take 5 to 7 days after infection before a dog shows any sign of being ill. Having said that, the period before the symptoms show is when an infected dog is most likely to spread the virus. A dog that looks to be perfectly healthy may well be spreading lots of virus in his environment.

There are two types of canine flu - one is a fairly mild form, and the other is a severe, possibly fatal form. The majority of infected dogs develop the mild form of canine flu.

In the mild cases, dogs may cough and have a runny nose. These symptoms can last a month or more. They don't eat, they have a high temperature, and are depressed and lethargic. It's not uncommon for people to think their dog just has the familiar kennel cough instead of canine influenza; the symptoms are very similar.

If a dogs condition worsens, they can develop pneumonia, and have difficulty breathing. Up to ten percent of dogs affected with the severe type of the disease will die. Dogs are much more likely to succumb to the more severe type of canine flu if they are already ill, such as those with cancer, or chronic disease.

To confirm a diagnosis of canine flu, an unwell dog will need to have a blood test, which will detect the presence of antibodies to the virus. A dog that recovers from canine flu infection seems to be immune to repeat infection for several years.

Whether you should vaccinate your dog depends on your circumstances, your dog's general health, and whether or not he will be at increased risk of severe canine flu.

The disease is likely to spread in environments where dogs are allowed to get close to each other. If your dog often stays in a boarding kennel, or you go to shows or training classes, you may want to consider vaccinating your dog. Similarly, if you take your dog to dog parks, or if he accompanies you as you help out in a shelter, your vet may recommend a vaccine for him.

You may also want to consider vaccination if your dog does have an underlying medical condition. These dogs are more at risk of developing severe canine flu. If your dog prefers to be a homebody, and doesn't venture out much apart from an occasional stroll in the neighborhood, many vets would suggest vaccination isn't really necessary.

The virus itself only lasts a week or so in the environment, and it is easily killed by regular household bleach. So, hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of the disease. Make sure you wipe down any show benches you use, and don't let your dog drink from public drinking bowls. The other thing to keep in mind is that the vaccine doesn't prevent infection, it just lessens the severity of any symptoms and reduces the spread of the virus.

If you need more information, speak to your vet about whether or not he or she recommends vaccination for your dog. And finally, there is no evidence that canine flu spreads to humans.

Dr. Susan Wright is veteran veterinarian who blogs for DogFenceDIY.com, a site that shows dog lovers how to safely contain their dog with an underground fence.