Are you feeling inundated by all the advertisements for flu shots that crop up at this time of year? I usually get my vaccination from my daughter’s pediatrician. She (my daughter, not the doctor) has asthma; getting vaccinated is a no brainer since it helps protect her from potentially serious flu-related complications. This year, I have another decision to make: Should my dog get a flu shot?
Canine flu and human flu are not the same, so don’t take your dog to the grocery store to be vaccinated. The two diseases, although similar in their effects, are caused by different types of flu viruses. Things can change rapidly in the flu arena, but up till now, we have never seen a case of canine flu diagnosed in people. Also, we have not noticed any seasonality with regards to canine flu infections.
Canine influenza is a relatively new disease. It was first diagnosed in 2004 in a group of racing greyhounds in Florida. Testing has shown that the virus mutated from a strain of equine influenza and gained the ability to spread from dog to dog. Since then, canine influenza has moved across the country, now being found in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
The symptoms of canine influenza are indistinguishable from "kennel cough" — a generic term for a condition caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria. Typically, dogs will cough, sneeze, have a runny nose, lose their appetite, and be somewhat lethargic, but they get better with symptomatic care only. A small percentage of dogs do go on to develop pneumonia, however, which proves fatal in less than 10 percent of canine influenza cases.
Which dogs should be vaccinated against canine influenza? First, find out whether the disease is endemic in your area. Colorado, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania are notorious canine flu hot spots, but ask your vet whether or not he or she knows of cases in your region. Next, look at your dog’s lifestyle. Canine flu spreads best in enclosed spaces that house a lot of animals. If your dog goes to a boarding facility, doggy day care, groomer's shop, or shows (but not dog parks), he has a higher than average chance of getting sick. In fact, some of these businesses and organizations are starting to require that dogs be vaccinated against canine flu. Dogs can also catch the flu directly from horses, so equine contact can be considered a risk factor.
Finally, take note of your dog’s individual situation. Does he have an immunosuppressive, cardiac, or respiratory disease that puts him at higher risk for flu complications? Vaccination might be in his best interests, but get your veterinarian’s input before making any final decisions.
So, I live in Colorado where flu is endemic, my dog occasionally boards/goes to doggy day care, he visits the barn with me when I take care of my horse, and his immune system is not all that it could be … looks like he’ll be joining the rest of the family in getting a flu shot this year.
Dr. Jennifer Coates