It’s that time of year when signs in all the stores urge shoppers to get their flu shot. But did you know that dogs can get influenza too, and that there is a vaccination?
Canine influenza virus is a member of a large group of viruses that cause various types of flu illness. Each virus has proteins on its surface that are unique to its strain, and strains are named according to these proteins. Canine flu is known as H3N8. When a flu virus mutates and successfully changes its surface proteins, a new strain is created. Molecular evidence suggests that canine flu is the result of a mutation in the equine influenza virus, which affects horses.
Canine flu was originally identified in 2004 in the racing Greyhound population in Florida and started appearing in boarding facilities in 2005.
Many dogs that become infected with the canine flu virus will clear the infection on their own and show no symptoms. Others will develop symptoms like fever, listlessness, coughing and mucoid discharge from the nose. Most of these dogs will recover with supportive care, but a small percentage will get pneumonia. Pneumonia requires more intensive treatment, including hospitalization. Dogs whose disease has progressed to this level are the patients at risk for death.
Canine flu is an emerging disease, so few dogs will have immunity to the virus. It can be spread through direct contact with a sick dog, or through contact with the secretions of infected dogs. The virus can survive on leashes, bowls, toys, etc.
There is an available vaccine for canine flu. It consists of two initial injections, 2-4 weeks apart, and a yearly booster after that. While Maryland does not have an established canine flu problem, the vaccine is recommended for all dogs that routinely visit doggie daycare, boarding facilities, dog parks or groomers. Keep your travel plans in mind too. If you are traveling with your dog to Florida or another southern state where flu outbreaks have been seen, consider the vaccination.
Many boarding facilities in and around Baltimore are now requiring the vaccine for all dogs, so check with your facility if you are planning on traveling for the holidays.