Let’s Talk: Are You Vaccinating Your Dog Against Dog Flu?

Last year at this time, I had my first-ever real-deal flu, and wow, was it the pits. I was down for a long time, but...


Last year at this time, I had my first-ever real-deal flu, and wow, was it the pits. I was down for a long time, but kept blogging through the fever and malaise. What a fun holiday that was! I vowed to get my first flu shot the following year. That would be this year. And no, I haven’t done it. (Do many of you?)

One major source of comfort during that flu was Jake. I could snuggle with him without fear of getting him sick, which wasn’t the case with the rest of the family. After all, dogs don’t get the flu. Do they?

Well as many of you probably know, dogs can get the flu — just not the flu viruses we suffer from, fortunately. The canine influenza virus (CIV) is a relatively new problem, with the first reported case in 2003, and is reported to be extremely contagious. The CDC website says scientists think the virus jumped species, from horses to dogs, and has adapted well. Yikes! Fortunately it is not contagious from dogs to people.

Here’s what doginfluenza.com (an info website created by the makers of a dog flu vaccine, but with much the same info as everyone else) has to say about the contagion factor:

“Just like human flu is among humans, canine influenza is highly contagious among dogs. In fact, unless a dog has already had the illness and recovered, virtually every dog exposed to the virus will become infected. This is because the virus is relatively new … and dogs have no natural immunity to it.

“CIV can pass from dog to dog through virus particles in the air (eg, through coughing or sneezing) or by coming into physical contact with other dogs (touching noses). It can also be picked up if a dog touches or plays with objects that were touched by infected dogs (for example, food bowls, toys). Humans can even transfer the virus between dogs. For example, they may spread the virus if they touch an infected dog, or even touch a toy or doorknob that the dog has contacted, and then touch another dog before washing their hands.”

I don’t know many dogs who contact doorknobs (do some dogs have opposable thumbs?), but the other stuff is pretty commonplace. Canine flu is usually pretty mild, but some dogs can become very ill. About 20 percent of dogs with CIV get pneumonia and a high fever. Eight percent go on to further complications.

How do you know if your dog has the flu? He can’t exactly reach for the Kleenex and tell you he doesn’t feel like going for a run. Sometimes the signs are subtle, so here are some things to look out for:

Mild, low-grade fever (103F)

Lethargy (tiredness)

Loss of appetite

Cough, which may be dry or may bring up sputum

Runny nose with clear secretions at first, but may later change to a thick and yellow and/or pink-tinged color

The symptoms are similar to ours. If you think your dog has the flu, call your vet. And don’t take your dog to places where other dogs could be exposed to it.

But this brings us to the question: Does your dog need to be vaccinated against dog flu? It’s something to discuss with your veterinarian, of course. I know a lot of you feel we already overvaccinate our dogs, and some of you will want to go out and protect your dog immediately. Here’s what I’m generally finding about vaccine recommendations. This version comes from VetDepot.com:

“Not every dog needs to be protected against the flu. Dogs that are housed in close contact with one another are at the highest risk. So if your dog is boarded, goes to a professional groomer, or attends doggy day care or dog shows, vaccination might be in his best interest. Infections are also frequently diagnosed in dogs that have spent time in shelters or pet stores. Interestingly, going to dog parks does not seem to increase the risk of canine flu infection.”

(The last line is hopeful for those of us who take our dogs to parks other dogs frequent, but it doesn’t jibe with the extreme contagion reported in most CIV literature I’ve read. I’m not in a position to interpret the conflicting information, so your trusted vet is probably the place to go for answers.)

Have any of you vaccinated your dogs yet? Do you plan to? Why or why not? Since Jake doesn’t frequent doggy daycare or any other places packed with pooches, I think we’ll forgo it. But since I have to take him to the vet for his quarterly (free) weigh-in to make sure he’s keeping the pounds off after he ballooned up for a while, I’ll ask my vet what she recommends. (I’m lucky enough to have a vet who doesn’t try to sell me services and meds Jake doesn’t need.) If you’ve had experience with canine flu in your household, please let us know how it went. Let’s talk, Dogsters!

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