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Dr. Holt
Monday, September 12, 2011

Ask vet about flu vaccine for dogs

Your Pet

Labor Day is a holiday that signifies great things, like a day off from work and a barbecue with friends. It also means that summer vacation has come to a close, the new school year is beginning, and soon we will enjoy the beautiful autumn foliage and get buckled down for winter. The changing seasons also are prime time to get the latest flu shot, in hopes that we won’t be wracked with fever and chills in the coming months. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age receive this vaccination. But what about the family dog?

Many dog boarding facilities and day cares now are requiring dogs to be vaccinated against canine influenza. Canine influenza, or canine flu, was classified as an emerging infectious disease in 2005. The virus is an influenza virus that originated in horses and is genetically distinct from the human influenza virus. This means that a person cannot get the flu from a dog and a dog cannot get the flu from a person. The family cat also is safe from catching influenza from the dog.

The first outbreak of the virus was identified in 2004 in racing Greyhounds in Florida, and within two years outbreaks had been reported in Greyhounds in 11 different states. The canine flu also was found in non-Greyhound dogs suffering from acute respiratory disease in animal shelters and boarding facilities. As of 2011, the virus has been reported in the pet population in at least 30 states across the U.S.

Dogs that have been infected with the canine influenza virus will experience flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge and a low-grade fever. The majority of dogs will develop a mild cough that can persist for up to three weeks despite treatment. Dogs that are more severely affected will have a high-grade fever (104 degrees to 106 degrees) and develop pneumonia.

The symptoms of canine influenza are indistinguishable from kennel cough, a common respiratory infection in dogs caused primarily by bacteria. Contrary to kennel cough, canine influenza is a new virus to which most dogs have not been exposed. Because immunity is uncommon, virtually all dogs exposed to canine influenza will become infected, with about 80 percent developing illness.

Fortunately, the overall mortality rate from canine influenza is low, between 1 percent and 5 percent. However, a complicating bacterial pneumonia in severe cases can be life-threatening as well.

Most dogs will recover uneventfully in about two weeks.

Canine influenza virus can be spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs and by contact with contaminated objects such as food bowls and leashes. Dogs that spend time in areas with a high concentration of dogs in close quarters, such as animal shelters or boarding and grooming facilities, are at greater risk for being exposed to the canine influenza virus. Dogs that spend most of their time at home, even if they associate with other dogs on walks, are at low risk of exposure.

There is a vaccine available that is designed to aid in control of the disease. The vaccine will not prevent the disease entirely but has been shown to decrease the severity and duration of illness. In addition, the vaccine reduces shedding of the virus, which means that the infected vaccinated dog is less likely to spread disease to other dogs. This vaccine is considered a lifestyle vaccine, which means it is not recommended for all pet dogs, only those that are in high-risk situations. Even if your dog is vaccinated, it is still important to keep your dog at home in the event that they develop any symptoms of the canine flu.

This fall when you get your flu shot, consult with your family veterinarian to see if your dog may benefit from one as well.

Dr. Natalee Holt received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine. She became board-certified in Internal Medicine in 2011, completed a one-year internship at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and performed a three-year residency at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She loves all aspects of internal medicine but has a special interest in gastrointestinal diseases and immune mediated diseases. Dr. Holt is a DVM, DACVIM is a board-certified internal medicine specialist who practices with the Animal Medical Center of New England, 168 Main Dunstable Road, Nashua. She may be reached for consultation at 821-7222.