It's flu season for people, as well as for their dogs. It turns out that dogs have their own brand of flu. The canine influenza virus (CIV) is fairly new, discovered in 2004. And just as there's a flu shot for people, now there's also a flu shot for dogs.
Canine influenza "is not something you want to mess with," says Dr. Monica Webb, a veterinarian in Louisville, Tenn. Webb hadn't seen CIV in her community until a few months ago when a West Highland white terrier that had traveled from Florida came into her office in desperate shape.
"The dog was coughing pretty bad; a deeper cough than what we sometimes see with bordetella (kennel cough). It seemed pretty clear the dog had pneumonia," Webb recalled. Testing determined the pneumonia was due to CIV. With treatment, this dog will recover — but some don't.
CIV is extremely infectious. Since Webb has a kennel at her facility, she began to request the vaccine for all the dogs boarded there, as well as dogs of clients that come in regular contact with other dogs.
"I'm not one for recommending all vaccines," Webb says. "But clearly the canine flu is here, and what if yours is the dog who gets the flu because I didn't recommend vaccination? About 10 percent of the dogs do die."
Of equal concern to Webb are the 20 percent of dogs with the virus that never develop symptoms but are still infectious — and can spread flu in the community.
The CIV vaccine isn't necessarily a magic bullet. It often prevents dogs from getting the flu, but not always. Sometimes it only lessens symptoms. But that's welcome since the symptoms can be severe. New research published in the journal Veterinary Microbiology suggests there may be lung lesions in dogs with CIV that aren't displaying symptoms of pneumonia.
Terri Wasmoen, an author of the published research and head of vaccine research at U.S. Intervet Schering-Plough, explains that if 10 percent or more of a dog's lungs are affected by pneumonia resulting from CIV, dogs exhibit some sort of distress. Of course, veterinarians respond with appropriate treatment. However, some dogs with CIV might have a lower percent of their lungs impacted by virus, so the pets are asymptotic. Unknowing owners don't realize there are lung lesions prone to bacterial infection. When that occurs, it may be days before owners notice symptoms. By then, a deep lung infection may be quite challenging to treat.
CIV now occurs in sporadic hot spots in 30 states, and is entrenched in five more: Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
"No question, if you're traveling, ask your veterinarian about CIV," says Dr. Michael Moyer, Rosenthal director of shelter animal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine-Philadelphia. "If you live in one of the five states where CIV has taken hold, or CIV is occurring near where you are, the vaccine is a logical possibility. Maybe even a probability, especially for social dogs that visit dog parks, groomers or doggy day care centers."
Shelters have their own problems. The flu has hit several facilities. "It's a pretty big deal," Moyer says, "not only for the shelter, but finding all the recently adopted dogs that are potentially spreading the virus."
Despite the fact that CIV hasn't spread as fast as some predicted, Moyer says it's likely that within a few years all 48 contiguous states will have experienced cases of CIV. There are two key points to keep in mind: If CIV is already common where you live, and your dog is social, consider vaccination. If CIV really hasn't hit yet, Moyer says it's just a matter of time. The question then becomes, how proactive do you want to be?
Webb encourages clients to be proactive, and vaccinate, even though there's only one known substantiated case in her area.
"Canine flu is here, and either we respond now, or wait until more dogs are affected — some seriously — and then respond," says Webb. "I think it's my responsibility not to wait."