Does Your Dog Need Canine Influenza Vaccination?

December 18, 2009

Does Your Dog Need Canine Influenza Vaccination?

While you consider influenza vaccine protection for your family, you may want to think about your furry family member. Canine influenza is on the rise and potentially serious, but does your pet dog need to be vaccinated?

After a few of my pet sitting clients asked my opinion about this, I decided to look to the experts for the answers.  I first turned to my own veterinarian and asked what his practice was regarding vaccination for H3N8 canine influenza, which is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the H3N8 subtype of the influenza A virus.  My vet informed me that he is vaccinating some of his canine patients—the ones he and all the other thought leaders I researched cite as those at highest risk. These are the dogs that are in kennels, dog day care, and other high-density situations such as shelters, racing kennels and dog shows.

In these dogs, the infection rate is extremely high. It seems that virtually all dogs exposed to the canine influenza virus become infected; about 80 percent develop a flu-like illness, while another 20 percent do not become ill. The virus is an airborne spreader and can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. Fortunately, most dogs recover within two weeks without any further health complications. However, since some dogs progress to pneumonia, which is usually due to secondary bacterial infections, it is very important to have your pet dog seen by a veterinarian and potentially treated with antibiotics. According to Christopher Olsen, DVM, PhD, an expert in the disease, treatment can be important in reducing fatalities. Yes, in some cases, influenza can be life threatening.

So, how do we know if our pet dog has canine influenza? The symptoms are quite like those we might see in humans: cough, sneezing, runny nose. Fever occurs but often you won’t even notice it. As well as joint aches they can’t complain about! Since there are no real signs to distinguish canine influenza from other respiratory infections, your vet will perform diagnostic tests to determine just what is ailing your pet dog. If your best friend also becomes listless, don’t be surprised if your doctor hospitalizes your pup and runs chest X-rays.

Group environments seem to be the only identifiable risk factor. Unlike the flu that we experience, canine flu is not seasonal, and the risk for secondary infections and serious complications is equal across breeds, animal size, and age. It has been reported across the country in most states.

So, what about that vaccine? The H3N8 canine influenza vaccine just became available in June of this year. The bad news is that the vaccine does not completely prevent infection; the good news is that it does minimize the symptoms experienced from infection.

Veterinary experts do not consider the vaccine a “core” vaccine. Some call it a “lifestyle” vaccine, necessary for those dogs that go to day care or kennels, but not needed for those dogs that have in-home pet sitting.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to tell my clients their pups should be safe. It seems that the best action they can take is prevention, not in the form of a vaccine but by choosing pet services such as private dog walking and sitting and private in-home boarding. That’s a lifestyle choice they and their dogs can live with!

This article was written by Deborah Hughes, owner of Fetch! Pet Care of Greater Wayne – E. Morris.  Deborah can be reached at 973-718-7075.  Fetch! Pet Care is the largest national pet care company in the United States; serving 38 states in more than 2,000 cities and towns.

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2 Responses to “Does Your Dog Need Canine Influenza Vaccination?”


  1. Good infromation to know and one more reason to choose in-home pet sitting for your pets needs.

  2. Phyllis Says:

    Very informative. Never knew that canine influenza could strike during any season of the year, that it is “lifestyle” based. Good reason to choose in-home care.


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