Should your dog get the canine influenza vaccine?


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You and your family may be thinking about getting flu shots this year. But you may also want to consider getting one for your dog -- for canine flu.

Canine influenza, or H3N8, is a relatively new and highly contagious virus that can resemble kennel cough, with symptoms that include cough, fever, runny nose, loss of appetite and low energy. Dogs typically recover from canine influenza within two to three weeks and are contagious for seven to 10 days.


Most dogs get a mild form of the illness, but some develop pneumonia and a small number have died from complications.

This summer, Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health released a canine influenza vaccine that may reduce the severity and length of infection. The vaccine consists of two shots, given two to four weeks apart. The company has a conditional license for the vaccine, which met safety standards.

The vaccine is not recommended for every dog. Most vulnerable to the virus are dogs housed in shelters, kennels and day-care facilities. Those that have contact with other dogs at dog parks and shows also could be exposed to it.

The virus was first identified in greyhounds at a Florida racing track in 2004. It spread to dogs around the country and has been reported in 30 states and Washington, D.C. As of October 2008, more than 1,000 cases had been reported by Cornell University’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center.

Los Angeles County has seen two confirmed outbreaks of canine influenza, says Dr. Emily Beeler, a zoonosis veterinarian with the county Department of Public Health. The most recent was in 2007 at a San Gabriel Valley boarding facility. Five out of the six dogs tested had the virus, but more dogs may have had it, she says. And in 2005, four dogs that had been at a Los Angeles-area boarding facility tested positive for the virus, and one died.

‘It seems like we get these hot spots that flare up and then die out,’ Beeler says. The county has kept close watch, she says, and ‘there’s good reason to think it did not spread out into the community.’

The virus is transmitted through respiratory secretions from infected dogs via coughing, sneezing and direct contact, as well as by contact with contaminated objects and people who have the virus on their hands or clothing. There’s no evidence of the virus being transmitted to humans.

Beeler says that two other viruses, parvovirus and canine distemper, currently are a bigger problem than canine influenza in L.A. County. These can be prevented with regular vaccinations, but many people skip the vaccines or vaccinate just once. Some vets in the county see two to three cases a week, Beeler says, and ‘fatalities are common in both conditions.’

-- Anne Colby