canine influenza – an update

Last spring the “new and deadly dog flu” was making headlines. Thankfully, the media hype has calmed down. I practice in St. Louis, and we just now had our first “official” case of canine influenza diagnosed. Thought now was a good time to re-visit the subject. Before everyone starts panicking, let’s get the facts and not media hype.

Top 5 things you need to know:

1 – If your dog does not interact with other dogs, the chances of him getting the flu is next to zero. Influenza does not materialize out of thin air. It must come FROM another dog. A sick dog. With the flu. It doesn’t travel so hot on clothing or objects – must be more direct contact with the sick dog.

2 – A single dog was diagnosed in St. Louis. This is not an epidemic. It’s one dog. I’m sure there will be a couple more now. Still not an epidemic.

3 – Canine influenza is kinda like the flu in people. You feel really crappy and it totally sucks when you get it. Very rarely is it fatal. Older animals/people, and those with compromised immune systems are the ones who are more likely to develop complications requiring hospitalization. The most common complication that becomes fatal is pneumonia. Most of us, however, have a totally sucky week and then move on.

4 – Roughly 20,000 people in the US die of influenza-related complications every year. This never seems to make the news. Less than 100 dogs have died of influenza related complications. Perspective.

5 – A couple different vaccines against canine influenza are available. Like most respiratory-disease vaccines, it likely will not completely prevent your dog from getting the flu. It may reduce shedding of the virus (contagious-ness) and shorten the duration of disease. Not a bad thing! Still, nothing is guaranteed in life.

dachshund playing

Dogs who are social and regularly interact with other dogs are most likely to be at risk.

So, if you travel all around doing dog shows or agility, or if your dog is a regular social butterfly at doggy day care, you might want to get the influenza vaccine. If you are at dog parks all the time (with your dog hopefully, otherwise that’s just weird), or travel often and board your dog frequently, the influenza vaccine might be right for your dog.

There are currently two influenza vaccines available. The “old” flu strain, H3N8, was originally diagnosed on the East Coast in 2005, and that was the only available dog flu vaccine….until a couple months ago. The “new” strain of dog flu that made headlines in Chicago last spring is not the same strain – it’s H3N2. No vaccine existed for that until recently. Now we have vaccines available for both H3N8 and H3N2. It is doubtful if once vaccine protects against the other strain. Your veterinarian can decide which vaccine your dog should get. Just like flu shots in people, the vaccine could become obsolete rather quickly. Canine influenza viruses can mutate just like the human ones, so no telling when we’ll see an even newer strain pop up!

If your dog never goes anywhere, or has one dog that comes over to play occasionally, you can probably skip this shot. I don’t like giving more vaccines than we need. However, there are some dogs who may benefit from the flu vaccine. As always, discuss the pros and cons with your vet about your particular dog.