Just when most of us don’t want to hear the word flu again, here is more to consider about that nasty virus. Influenza is not just a hot button issue with humans, it’s abuzz in the canine world as well. The reason is two fold: there is a new, controversial vaccine for canine influenza, and recently, several cats and ferrets were diagnosed with H1N1. Holy Mutation, Batman!
First to canine flu. The recent furor in the veterinary community is due to the release of a conditionally approved vaccine for the influenza virus in dogs. This comes following an outbreak in 2005 of flu in racing greyhounds in Florida. Many dogs became ill and over 30 died of pneumonia and other complications. Though the virus was first isolated in Florida, it has spread nationwide . Spread has occurred not only because show and working dogs travel state to state, but also because vacationing families take their pets great distances. The television and print media have reported on outbreaks of flu which have closed down boarding kennels and veterinary hospitals. Once such outbreak was relatively close by in Alexandria, Virginia. Representatives from the company marketing
the vaccine are beating on the doors of local vet offices campaigning hard for all dogs to be vaccinated.
The clinical signs of canine influenza are similar to what humans suffer with the flu; sneezing, cough, runny eyes and nose, fever, lethargy and aches. These signs generally appear about a week following exposure. The cough can last up to four weeks. Most infections are mild and self-limiting. These cases are difficult to distinguish from traditional kennel cough which is an infectious upper airway disease. About 5-8% of infected dogs will become very ill with pneumonia, high fever and difficulty breathing. As with any other upper respiratory infection, supportive care with fluids, good nursing and possible antibiotics to deal with secondary bacterial infection is standard treatment.
The controversy surrounding the new vaccine deals with its limitations. It’s a two dose series, with the second dose given 2-4 weeks after the first. This means that the vaccine doesn’t start conferring protection until 4-5 weeks AFTER the first dose. The vaccine will not prevent a dog from getting canine flu. It will just decrease the severity of the disease. It also does not prevent the virus from being shed to other dogs. So your dog can still spread it to others. Given these imperfections, which dogs should get this vaccine? Hi-risk dogs such as show dogs, frequent boarders, dogs housed in close quarters as in kennels or shelter environments should be considered. Dog owners should discuss their pet’s need (or not) for the vaccine. It is certainly not a product that should be given carte blanche to all dogs.
Canine influenza is H3N8. As everyone knows, swine flu is H1N1. This fall, both cats and ferrets were diagnosed with H1N1. These animals displayed the upper respiratory signs typical of a flu, and came from homes where their owners were recently diagnosed with swine flu. Virus isolation was performed at the National Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, an extremely reputable lab. So what are the implications for our pets?
Currently, infectious disease specialists recommend that humans with flu-like symptoms should stay away from all companions-whether two or four legged. It is not thought that our pets are sources of flu for us or our families. It is simply possible for the virus to mutate sufficiently to infect other species. By practicing social distancing, people can minimize spread of disease.