Canine influenza: What is it, what it’s not and what you should do

November 19, 2009 at 2:37 am Leave a comment

This morning one of the pet-insurance companies — not the one that advertises here, please note– sent out a fear-mongering bulletin on Canine Influenza that was really little more than a sales pitch to sign up for insurance.

I am a big believer in pet health insurance (even more after I got the very nice check for McKenzie’s recent malady), but fear-mongering? Not cool, dudes.

Especially with everyone already in a near freak-out over anything having to do with any flu, as the excellent science reporter Edie Lau writes for the VIN News Service:

Had the new canine influenza vaccine come out in ordinary times, veterinarians may have had little trouble deciding whether, when and to which owners’ dogs to offer the shot. Clients might easily have grasped that the shot is appropriate for dogs that congregate in places such as boarding kennels and shows, but not necessary for stay-at-home pets.

But times are not ordinary.

With a human pandemic flu in full swing and fresh evidence that the virus in people has passed to pet ferrets and a house cat, flu viruses of all varieties are stoking high anxiety. That’s translated into unusual — some say unwarranted — public interest in the dog flu shot and a heightened sensitivity among clinicians on the subject.

The canine influenza vaccine is not a “core” vaccine, but rather a “lifestyle” immunization, to be used only under certain conditions. Since its release, practitioners have been puzzling over just what conditions warrant it. For instance, they wonder, is it appropriate for a boarding kennel to require the shot in a region where canine influenza is not known to be circulating?

She goes on to write about who should be considering the vaccine for their pets, and why people looking at boarding over the holidays may not feel they have a choice but to vaccinate, since some kennel owners are mandating it:

[University of Florida researcher Dr. Cynda] Crawford [who discovered the virus] said she understands both veterinarian and kennel-owner perspectives on the issue. “As a veterinarian, I would prefer that policies like that be made on evidence,” she said. “At the same time, I have seen a few boarding establishments here in Florida just wiped off the face of the Earth financially (after an influenza outbreak).”

Like boarding establishments, [veterinary] clinics may have an interest in playing it safe, Crawford added. “Now (that) there’s a vaccine, what is your liability if you don’t tell clients about it?” she said. “If I do not tell clients whose dogs are socially active in the community, and they go out and get canine flu, they may come back and say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me there was a vaccine?’ ”

[Dr. Steven] Barta, a Michigan practitioner wondering how to broadcast the availability of the vaccine without inciting panic, ended up preparing a short letter for clients on the subject. It reads in part:

“This vaccine does not prevent the disease but it lessens the severity of the disease. After careful consideration and research we feel that this is an important vaccine to be given to any dogs that fall into the following categories:

  • Kenneled dogs or those that visit doggie day care

  • Frequent visits to the groomer

  • Dogs that play at dog parks

  • Out-of-state travelers

“In essence, dogs that receive the Bordetella vaccine are also candidates for the Canine Influenza Vaccine.”

The letter apparently met his goal of being informative without causing a panic. Two and a half weeks after he sent it out, Barta said the demand was “surprisingly low.”

Canine influenza originally was discovered among racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004. Before that, dogs were not known to be susceptible to the flu. The flu subtype, H3N8, evolved from a virus that infects horses.

Crawford said the virus has since reached 29 states and the District of Columbia, with urban areas in Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida particularly hit hard.

Read the rest here. And read Christie’s earlier blog post — from August, please note — here.

I have a dog who was a victim of canine influenza. He got it a massive dog show in Houston as 6- or 7-month-old puppy, probably from dogs brought in from Florida. The Texas A&M vet school didn’t realize what they were dealing with at first, so Woody might have been the first case in Texas — a dubious honor, to be sure. He survived thanks to A&M and is a robust, healthy dog now. Because my dogs do go to places with lots of other dogs, I will be vaccinating them. I do not, however, vaccination them for “kennel cough” because in healthy dogs it’s a minor, self-limiting disease.

But you need to look at the risk/benefit equation for yourself, talk to your veterinarian and make your own decisions — based on science, not fear.

Image: Damn, that’s a good-looking dog! Smart and hard-working, too.…

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