“I’ve heard that dogs are dying from the flu. Should I be worried about this? Is there a vaccine to protect my dog?”
Canine Influenza Virus (CIV), or “dog flu,” is a virus that was introduced to the United States in 2004. The two variants in the U.S. are highly transmissible through aerosols and nose-to-nose contact. Outbreaks are sporadic and seasonal and tend to happen during winter in shelters, boarding facilities, and grooming parlors. This winter, there has been an uptick in cases with outbreaks in many states including California, Arizona and Texas. A local shelter in my area, Palm Springs, CA, had a large outbreak with dogs getting seriously ill and dying.
Can dogs die from dog flu?
Can your dog die from the flu? Yes, but it’s not likely. Symptoms of CIV typically mirror those of kennel cough, a highly contagious bacterial infection, but both illnesses are, fortunately, rarely fatal. However, if your dog has a compromised immune system or has other medical conditions that make him more vulnerable, both kennel cough and dog flu can lead to death.
Symptoms of dog flu include cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge, and reduced appetite. More severe cases can lead to life-threatening pneumonia. But because influenza is a virus, treatment consists of supportive care. Antibiotics are only used if there are secondary bacterial infections. If your dog develops symptoms, please take him to the vet. With care, most dogs recover in a few weeks.
Is there a dog flu vaccine?
There are several vaccines available to treat both variants of CIV. It is not clear that these vaccines are highly effective, much like human flu vaccines, but studies have shown that they do reduce the severity of symptoms. However, because outbreaks are so sporadic, it is usually recommended that only dogs at high risk get vaccinated. Here is what Dr. Scott Weese, a veterinary internist specializing in infectious diseases, recommends:
“My main considerations are risk of exposure and risk of severe disease. Risk of exposure depends on whether the virus is in the area, how likely it is that it will be brought into the area (e.g., outbreaks nearby), how likely it is for the dog to be exposed somewhere else (e.g., the dog travels with its owner or goes to dog shows), how likely it is for the dog to be exposed to a high risk dog from somewhere else (e.g., contact with dogs imported from Asia, or dogs from other areas where flu is active) and how many dog contacts it has (the more contacts, the greater the risk, particularly if there are contacts with dogs of unknown health and travel status). Risk of severe disease is the other consideration, as described above. I’m quicker to recommend any respiratory disease vaccine in seniors, dogs with other illnesses and brachycephalic [dogs with short noses such as pugs].“
What should I do?
If your dog frequents various dog parks while you travel, your dog is at higher risk. But if she/he is healthy and does not have other problems, you likely can forgo the vaccine. Speak to your vet if you are concerned. However, if your dog is senior or immune-compromised in any way — is your dog on steroids for allergies, for instance? — be sure to speak with your vet about the vaccine. I do recommend in any circumstance that you keep your dog current on his Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine.
If you have a very, very good boy or girl right now, we think they deserve this. Everyone will laugh!
I did insist on having my dog vaccinated for Canine Flu. Yes, a bit expensive. No, I don’t think my dog is at high-risk. I only occasionally board my dog in a kennel, but he does go to the groomer for baths. Canine Flu has been a big problem in the bigger towns in our state, but has not been reported in our smaller town. But we do travel outside of my home base area. We do travel to rallies where most everyone has their pets with them. My dog will be 10 years old this summer; in fairly good health; but, still, I don’t want him to get sick at this age if I can do something to help ward it off.
Good for you. Make sure he gets a bordatella booster before you board him. The intranasal version gives the best protection.
Thank you, Karel!
You are very welcome Neal! 🙂
“What should I do?” Stock up on toilet paper and bottled water.