I have not pushed the influenza (dog flu) vaccine to my patients in the nearly 4 years since I opened my own veterinary clinic. I strongly believe in vaccinating to a pet’s lifestyle and had not seen much of a risk for my clients’ dogs for influenza here in my small Florida town. This may now change.
Many of my dog patients are homebodies. I do very little work with show dogs nor performance animals. The large majority of my patients in this little coastal town are homebodies. For several years I’ve had a flu vaccine available for dog patients who do live a higher risk lifestyle, but I try my best to adhere to vaccination recommendations put forth by the American Animal Hospital Association and by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. These organizations break vaccinations into the categories of “core vaccines” and “non-core vaccines”. Core vaccines are for most pets. Non-core vaccines are based on added lifestyle risks. The flu vaccine is a non-core vaccine.
Both of these organizations (AAHA and AAFP) make recommendations for vaccine guidelines every few years. They get a handful of super smart immunologists together and these infectious disease specialists come up with guidelines for general practitioners like me to follow, based on disease prevalence and vaccination “duration of immunity” (which varies between vaccines). Let me tell you, over the 30 years I have been in the vet biz we have changed how we vaccinate dramatically! The vaccinations we use are much better these days. And safer as well. We’ve learned about some bad things that should not go into vaccinations.
Not all vaccinations are the same, and I want clients to be informed about the vaccinations they choose for their pets. I’m particularly finicky about using non-adjuvanted vaccinations for felines. But I digress. This newsletter is about the dog flu!
Unfortunately, there is currently an outbreak of CIV (canine influenza virus) in Georgia and north and central Florida, but it has affected many states to a lesser degree. State Veterinarians and veterinary universities send out information to vets like me and we then pass on the information to our clients and friends. There are now 2 strains of canine influenza for which we vaccinate and veterinarians who vaccinate will likely utilize the “bivalent” vaccine. If the lifestyle warrants vaccination, it makes sense to vaccinate for both strains! The first dog flu vaccine was for H3N8. The newer strain is the strain that caused the outbreak in the Chicago area in 2015. It is this new strain, H3N2, that is causing the current Georgia and Florida outbreak.
Who Should Get The Vaccine?
If your dog goes to high dog traffic areas such as groomers, boarding facilities, agility classes, doggie daycare, dog shows or is a social butterfly at the dog parks, you might consider consulting your veterinarian for the vaccine. One of my best friends takes her dog to agility competitions here in South Florida. With the current outbreak many of the local contests have been canceled until this outbreak passes.
The dog flu vaccine is a series of 2 vaccines, two to four weeks apart, then annually if lifestyle and epidemiological risk persists. If your pet is a home-body couch-potato, I would not feel compelled to vaccinate. I strongly encourage client participation in vaccine selection. Chat with your vet.
How Does Dog Flu Differ From Kennel Cough?
Dog flu and kennel cough both present with upper respiratory signs. The presentation of dog influenza is usually much more severe than pets who have “kennel cough”, though the lifestyle factors that put a pet at risk for kennel cough are the same as those for dog flu. The typical “kennel cough” is often multifactorial with bordetella and parainfluenza often being players. Getting the kennel cough vaccine does not mean your dog can’t come down with disease, but it may lessen the clinic signs. Other than a deep hacking cough and sneezing, kennel cough dogs often feel fine and continue to eat. Of course they can get quite ill or get pneumonia, but more often than not dogs with kennel cough have a short course and often feel fine despite the hacking cough. Dogs with influenza feel crummy, may run a fever, may progress to pneumonia, and may stop eating. Dogs with the flu are often sick for 2 weeks and may be contagious for 4 weeks. Although dogs with kennel cough can have lingering signs for weeks, many patients are well within half a week to a week.
How Do We Test For Dog Flu?
Vets don’t typically submit diagnostic tests for kennel cough unless a pet is quite ill. We usually treat supportively and have owners keep their pets away from other pets to prevent other pets from being infected. With the contagious nature of dog flu, your vet may take swabs of the nose and throat and submit them to an outside lab for diagnosis.
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NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.