In the summer of 2013, Animal Hospitals Champions Northwest and Jones Road, changed their standard canine core vaccination protocol, and added the canine influenza vaccine (CIV). Many clients questioned the addition of another vaccine. Some harbored doubt about the need for protection against canine influenza. The following chronicles our animal hospitals’ experience with the virus and, hopefully, educates clients about the importance of this vaccine.
Canine influenza, an A H3N8 influenza virus, originated in horses many years ago. Isolated outbreaks of canine influenza, or canine flu, appeared in the U.S. in 2004 when this equine virus crossed over to dogs and quickly spread across the country. Non-symptomatic (showing no signs of illness) infected dogs transmit this highly contagious disease through direct contact, the air and contaminated items such as bowls and toys. The symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy, and they typically appear seven to 10 days after exposure to the virus. In severe cases, hemorrhagic pneumonia, pneumonia, and even death are possible.
Once a dog displays symptoms of the disease, it no longer sheds the virus. Grooming salons, dog parks, shelters, boarding kennels, dog shows – anywhere multiple canines are in close proximity – are the environments where the virus proliferates. There is no instant method of detecting the presence of canine flu. Testing is available for canine influenza virus, but results from diagnostic labs may take up to a week, offering little benefit to a sick patient.
Previously, the general consensus among our veterinarians was most healthy dogs without immunosuppression, weakness or illness recovered on their own or with minor medical intervention. So, when manufacturers first offered CIV, our veterinarians agreed it was optional.
What we learned in July 2013 changed our minds. A lone dog anonymously carried the virus into one of our hospitals. As mentioned, dogs showing no symptoms propagate the disease. Before long, we saw more than 40 cases of canine flu, including one extremely sick patient with hemorrhagic pneumonia – all from dogs that spent a day or more in our hospital. To eradicate the virus cycle, we virtually shut the hospital down for an entire week. Our veterinary hospital’s outbreak was not an isolated incident; others in the Houston area had similar problems.
As veterinarians, our job is to help keep pets healthy; to make the best recommendation for their care. Failure to recommend the canine influenza vaccine for a dog that has some form of social interaction with other canines is, in our opinion, a lapse in duty. While a strong healthy dog may weather the flu without complications, we cannot make the determination on sight a pet has absolutely no disorders or diseases that may compromise its immune system. The safe and responsible choice is to vaccinate all pets against the virus, and thus lessen the health risk and further spread of the canine flu.
Once vaccinated, it is possible for your pet to contract the virus, but the vaccine lessens the severity of symptoms. To initiate protection, there are a series of two vaccinations three weeks apart, and annual boosters thereafter are necessary. As always, we are happy to answer clients’ questions about the CIV.