Dog Flu: The Importance of Vaccinating Your Pets
Did you know dogs can get the flu, too? Yes, just like their owners, dogs can contract canine influenza causing similar symptoms. Canine influenza is a relatively new virus, having only developed in the last 12 years. But it’s becoming a growing concern.
These days most pet diseases are prevented with vaccination and it’s easy to take the wonder of immunity for granted. Basically, immunity can be summed up with one word: “prevention”.
From a veterinarian’s perspective, it is always easier to prevent a disease rather than treat it. Vaccines stimulate your pet’s own immune system to make antibodies which provide long term protection from various infectious diseases. These are usually in the form of an injection, though some nasal alternatives are now available.
Our pets start their vaccination programs early on (usually at around 7 weeks of age) to prevent a number of diseases, and these vaccines work very well.
Commonly recommended canine vaccines include: rabies, distemper, parvo, Hepatitis, bordetella, leptospirosis, dog flu, Lyme, and parainfluenza.
If you’re skeptical about how dogs and cats contract diseases and viruses, it’s surprisingly easy. Domestic pets are social creatures for the most part. Dogs may come into direct contact with other dogs when they visit dog parks or doggie day cares, while other dogs enjoy a good sniff (in some very choice places) during their daily walks where sick dogs may have visited. With all this potential contact, there are countless opportunities for viruses to be transmitted from one animal to the next. Throw in the interactions at boarding, grooming, daycare and at the vet’s office and it’s virtually impossible for pet owners to prevent their dogs from contacting germs.
Unfortunately, there are some extremely unpleasant bugs out there. Which brings us back to prevention - as opposed to treatment. It’s far more beneficial to have a population of vaccinated animals. You’d hate for your beloved pet to get sick unnecessarily, wouldn’t you?
2015’s outbreak of the new strain of canine influenza, H3N2 demonstrated just how quickly viruses can spread. Thousands of animals contracted CIV H3N2 dog flu in the Midwest during the original outbreak, and in less than one year, this new flu strain was confirmed in over half the country. Since this is a relatively new pathogen, most dogs are susceptible to infection because they have no natural or vaccine-induced immunity when first exposed to the virus.
What is Canine Influenza?
Canine influenza - or dog flu - is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by an influenza A virus. Here in the US, canine influenza has been caused by two strains classified as H3N8 and H3N2. H3N8 was first discovered in 2004 in the US.
The infection is spread through the germs released while coughing, barking and sneezing, or through contact with any contaminated objects - including hands, clothes and any surface dogs come into contact with. The virus can remain alive on these surfaces or clothing or hands for several hours.
To add to the complexity, dogs are most contagious during the 2-4 day incubation period, but exhibit no symptoms during this time. So exactly how and where your dog caught the virus could prove difficult to determine.
What are the Symptoms?
Canine influenza is fairly nasty (though usually not life-threatening), with around 80% of infected dogs showing symptoms. These include coughing, sneezing, lethargy and loss of appetite. Infected dogs may present with one of two different syndromes:
- Mild - The more common of the two, with symptoms including coughing and nasal discharge. Some dogs are sick with dog flu for weeks.
- Severe - infected dogs will have a high fever with symptoms developing very quickly. At worst, these include intense coughing, weakness, lethargy, and trouble with breathing. In rare cases, pneumonia, can develop too.
Which Vaccine is used Used to Prevent Canine Influenza?
A very popular vaccine used to prevent both strains of dog flu is called Nobivac® Canine Flu Bivalent. Nobivac Canine Flu Bivalent is unique because it’s the only vaccine currently available which provides comprehensive protection against both strains of the flu virus (CIV H3N2 and H3N8).
How Often Should Dogs be Vaccinated?
- Puppies (from 7 weeks of age) receive 2 doses of Nobivac® Canine Flu Bivalent, separated by 2-4 weeks
- Booster shots (single dose) should be performed on a yearly basis thereafter
As already previously noted, prevention is the best course of action. If your dog isn’t protected against canine influenza, it is best to consult with your vet as soon as possible and discuss options.
Social pets, like those that visit doggie day cares, boarding facilities, and dog parks are at most risk for infectious disease.