The dog flu, or canine influenza virus (CIV), is a respiratory disease caused by H3N8, an influenza A virus. Because dogs have not developed immunity to it, this flu is highly contagious. (Dogs cannot, however, transmit this flu to people.)
The first documented cases of CIV occurred in Florida racing Greyhounds in 2004. Since then, 33 states have reported outbreaks in shelters, boarding kennels, dog daycare centers, dog parks, veterinary clinics and other places where dogs tend to congregate. Most of the cases have been reported in Colorado, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
The symptoms are identical to those of kennel cough: coughing, sneezing, lethargy, fever and loss of appetite. For most dogs these symptoms are mild, but in severe cases, the flu can develop into pneumonia. Fortunately, fewer than 5 percent of dogs die from CIV.
In June 2010, the first-ever flu vaccine for dogs was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although the Nobivac Canine Flu H3N8 vaccine does not completely prevent CIV, it does reduce a dog’s spreading of the virus.
Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine, recommends the vaccine for dogs at risk. “In general, any dog that is in a closed room with other dogs for at least six hours or more can be considered at risk,” he said in a statement issued by Nobivac last year.
Last month the dog flu reached San Antonio, Texas, and some veterinarians there are recommending the shot.
Dr. Tom Vice told KSAT.com that the vaccine is now in high demand. In fact, several clients at his San Antonio practice are waiting for him to restock it.
But Dr. Natalie Holt, DVM, DACVIM, wrote in The Telegraph that not all dogs need the flu shot. “This vaccine is considered a lifestyle vaccine, which means it is not recommended for all pet dogs, only those that are in high-risk situations,” she wrote. “Even if your dog is vaccinated, it is still important to keep your dog at home in the event that they develop any symptoms of the canine flu.”
The Nobivac vaccine is given to dogs 6 weeks of age or older by an injection that is followed by a booster shot two to four weeks later. After that, dogs get injections on a yearly basis. The cost generally ranges from $25 to $35 per flu shot.
PHOTO: Andres Rueda