Sunday, September 27, 2009

What is Canine Influenza? Should I vaccinate my dogs?

With all the news media coverage about influenza this year, we've been wondering about canine influenza. What is the dog flu? If our dogs get it, can they spread it to people? Should we vaccinate our dogs for dog flu?

According to Dr. Steve Schwartz, Director of the Veterinary Medical Centers for the Humane Society of Missouri, canine influenza was first identified in 2003 in a group of Florida racing greyhounds and has since been confirmed in veterinary clinics, shelters and kennels in 30 states. It appears to have originated when the horse influenza virus which it closely resembles crossed over to infect dogs. Typically when a virus jumps from one species to another the second species is unable to transmit it. Canine influenza (transmission from horse to dog to other dogs) and swine influenza (transmission from swine to human to other humans) are unique exceptions.

Dr. Schwartz notes that the human and canine flu viruses are unrelated to one another. Moreover there is no evidence to suggest that the canine influenza virus can spread to people. All ages and breeds of dogs are equally susceptible to contracting the disease. The infection is easily transmitted by coughing, sneezing, direct dog-to -dog contact or via contaminated surfaces. Flu-like symptoms (sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose and persistent coughing) develop within 2 to 6 days of exposure. Most dogs recover uneventfully although up to 8% may die of complications.

If you board your dog, have him/her professionally groomed or regularly visit your local dog park, Dr. Schwartz recommends that your dog receive the canine influenza vaccination. The canine influenza vaccine, H3N8, has been showen to be safe and effective in decreasing the severity and duration of the cough while also dramatically reducing the incidence of complications. According to Dr. Schwartz, the vaccine can be given to dogs 6 weeks of age and older and is administered twice initially, 2 to 3 weeks apart, then annually.

The vaccine is currently available through all three of the Humane Society of Missouri
Veterinary Medical Centers. Read more about canine infuenza at the Humane Society of Missouri's web site. Check with your own vet for more information in making a decision to vaccinate your dogs.

For Love of a Dog supports the Humane Society of Missouri.

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