We just adopted a Rescue dog that had been given the K-9 influenza vaccine, and he needs another shot in 3 weeks. None of my other dogs has ever had this vaccine. What is it for and why did this dog have it?
We got identical brochures on “Canine Influenza” from our vet’s office and the animal rescue. This is a canine flu that does not affect humans. According to Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health, they have created a canine influenza vaccine that has been approved by the USDA under a “conditional” license. That means it has supplied data to the USDA that “supports a reasonable expectation of efficacy.”
Since our Rescue gave the pup his first vaccination and our vet plans to give the second, obviously the pros believe it’s worthwhile.
What is canine influenza? According to the brochure, this is a “highly contagious strain of the influenza A virus known as H3N8 (which) is able to cause respiratory illness.”
Beyond the possible self-promotion of a product by a company that sells the vaccines for canine influenza, other sources seem to back the effectiveness of the product. Since most vets hedge regarding disapproval of a product they use and profit from, I found another, more objective, source of information. The “Irreverent Vet” is a pseudonym for a practicing vet who writes honestly and bluntly about controversial topics. The CEO of PetPlace.com, veterinarian Dr. Jon Rappaport, often invites the Irreverent Vet to speak openly in his “definitive web destination for PetCrazy (newsletter) people” which has a library of 10,000 vet-approved articles.
The Irreverent Vet says the virus is also called “Greyhound Disease” and “Race Flu” because “the virus was causing illness and death in dogs at Florida Greyhound tracks and spreading to other dogs across the country.” It seems the virus crossed over from a known horse virus, and the first case was reported in Florida in 2003. The 2005 edition of Science Magazine brought the disease to national attention with its article titled, “Transmission of Equine Influenza Virus to Dogs.”
Symptoms: According to the Intervet brochure, about 80% of dogs (100% are exposed someplace) who show signs of influenza will have a mild form, which includes a “low-grade fever, nasal discharge, lack of energy, loss of appetite, and a cough that can last for up to a month.” Worse symptoms include a secondary bacterial infection that includes a yellow-green, thick nasal discharge, which can be treated with an antibiotic from your vet.
The cough may be wet or dry. Do not use human products on a dog, like cough suppressants or human flu medications.
The Irreverent Vet says other symptoms include sneezing, an eye discharge, and/or a fatal pneumonia. Puppies and elderly dogs are obviously at greatest risk. The numbers of dogs that die from the virus are guesstimated at 1% to 10%.
How is the disease spread? Canine influenza spreads through direct contact, coughing or sneezing (airborne), and through hands, clothing, or objects contaminated with the virus.
At most risk of exposure, obviously, are the dogs who congregate with other dogs at kennels, shelters, grooming shops, vet clinics, parks, boarding facilities, etc. If your dog goes to dog shows or attends puppy kindergarten, your vet may recommend K-9 influenza vaccine protection.
The Irreverent Vet says that the flu has been found in every state, or a bordering state, of the continental U.S.
Incubation: 2-5 days.
Prevention: Minimize exposure to other dogs that might be infected. Also, a healthy, well-fed, hydrated, rested animal is less likely to pick up the virus in the first place.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), with information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “the vaccine doesn’t prevent the disease; it decreases the disease’s severity.” Furthermore, this form of the disease is treated successfully in about 95% of the cases.”
The Irreverent Vet says you can kill the virus with “routine disinfectants such as quaternary ammoniums or a 10% bleach solution. Thorough cleaning of crates, cages, bowls, bedding, floors, (etc.) is recommended to prevent transmission to other dogs.” Wash hands before and after exposure to possibly infected dogs. Wash clothes with typical laundry detergent at normal wash temperature.
Diagnosis: Many times, the flu-like symptoms are confused with kennel cough, and the disease is not recognized until it becomes severe. According to the brochure, a vet can take blood or nasal swab samples, but they “must be taken at the appropriate time in the course of your dog’s illness” to be correctly diagnosed.
Protection: Schering-Plough recommends two doses of vaccinations given 2-4 weeks apart, followed by annual revaccination. The Irreverent Vet recommends giving the vaccine as two 1 mL doses — as a killed virus — for dogs over 5 weeks of age.
Does your dog need the vaccine? According to the Irreverent Vet, the benefits are like those for humans: the vaccine should reduce the severity of the disease, shorten its duration, and reduce lung damage. The vet recommends the vaccination for dogs at high risk of exposure, but if it is truly a house pet that doesn’t interact much with other unknown dogs, your dog probably doesn’t need it.
Of course, as always, your vet is the best person to consult with a dog that shows signs of illness. According to the AAHA, be sure to inform him if your dog was exposed to canine social activities where he might have picked up the virus within the previous month. Your vet can also advise you about what to do for your other canine friends that share quarters.
Personal Experience: Before our appointment at the Rescue, the volunteer called me to make sure I understood our 12-year-old dachshund would be exposed to all kinds of viruses, including kennel cough (which includes parainfluenza) and K-9 influenza. I said our elderly dog was in fine physical shape, and I understood that symptoms could be treated with antibiotics. She agreed. I said we wanted to keep the appointment. We saw four dogs that came outside in a grassy pen to interact with us and our dog. We picked a 4-5 month-old corgi/border collie mix and brought him home that day. He had been given the K-9 Influenza vaccine two days prior, so the amount of virus shed and the duration of shedding should have been less than full exposure.
On the 10th day after the shot, on Sunday, our pup started coughing. We took “Howie” to see visiting family at my mother’s and son’s house that day, but kept the pup out front for pictures. We did not expose him to their 8-year- old lab. In fact, we came home, changed clothes, and returned to visit.
I called the vet on Monday. He said our older dog should no longer be at risk if he hadn’t developed symptoms by then. Our son’s healthy dog was really not at risk, and he laughed at our precaution of coming home (9 miles) to change clothes. Since Howie had finished the last Rescue-prescribed-and-included antibiotic for his specific form of virus that morning – 14 days of doxycycline (there are others) – and Howie only had a light, wet-sounding cough that lasted about 5 seconds 3-4 times per day, our vet said the dog should be fine. We didn’t need to bring him in for another check-up and expose him to even more serious illnesses. (He said longer, more frequent coughing would be another matter.)
Final word: You have to trust your vet; he can be your dog’s and your best friend when you’re a new doggy parent.
“Canine Influenza: What do I need to know?” Brochure by Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health, New Jersey, copyright 2009.
“The Irreverent Vet Speaks out on Does Your Dog Need the H3N8 Dog Flu Vaccine?” http://www.petplace.com/dogs/rreverent-vet-speaks-out-on-does-your-dog-need-the-h3n8-dog-flu-vaccine/page1.aspx. Retrieved 9-27-10.
“Fast Facts about Canine Influenza.” American Animal Hospital Association. http://www.healthypet.com/petcare/DogCareArticle.aspx?art_key=9fa7005d-4c10-4c73-8bdc-4b9c0ae17217. Retrieved 9-2-10.