Canine influenza (CI), also known as dog flu, has now been laboratory-confirmed in 39 states. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean there have been no cases in the other 11 American states. Rather, perhaps cases occurred, and either were categorized as some other upper respiratory tract infection, or CI was suspected but samples were not sent to a laboratory, or the case was so mild that dog flu was never considered on the differential diagnosis list.
Mississippi’s only confirmed case to date was diagnosed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Now, more than ever, veterinarians are recommending all dogs be vaccinated against the virus.
Every now and then you hear about a village of people previously unknown to the outside world. Anthropology investigators must be careful to avoid not only cultural contamination of the people therein, but infectious contamination, as well. Having no contact with the outside world means such people are susceptible to suffering severe illnesses from germs you and I consider routine. For example, the common cold could easily be fatal to them, possibly even wiping out the entire village. Such an immune system, lacking prior experience, is called “naive.”
You and I and most of our pets enjoy protection from “community immunity.” Exposure to everyday bacteria and viruses stimulates our immune systems to provide disease protection much like a vaccine does. Over time, our immune system develops a state of readiness so that it can respond quickly when illness threatens.
Naive immune systems lack the ability to protect the host. Most of our dogs fall into that category in regard to canine influenza because no dogs around them have had a natural case of the disease and few of them have been vaccinated.
The situation was similar in the early 1980s, when canine parvovirus arrived on the scene. A virus that probably mutated from feline panleukopenia virus, the disease was brand new, so no community immunity existed and no vaccine was available to provide immune protection. Millions of dogs became ill, and a huge percentage of them died.
Fortunately, we have a good vaccine for canine influenza, it is widely available, affordable and the supply is plentiful. Side effects are minimal, with the most commonly reported effect being short-term lethargy.
Two vaccinations are required initially, followed by an annual booster.
Dog fluis transmitted by airborne particles, so every dog that breathes can become exposed. Most kennels and boarding facilities require the vaccination because close congregation of dogs increases the likelihood that one dog carrying the virus can infect everyone in the facility.
If your dog competes in shows, agility trials or attends dog parks, his risk for CI is very high. Alternatively, a dog who uses pads in the house for bathroom functions, never goes for walks and doesn’t congregate with other dogs would be less likely to contract dog flu. Still, such a dog will have a total lack of community immunity, supporting a possibly greater need for vaccination.
Meet with your veterinarian soon, and discuss your dog’s level of risk for canine influenza. Your pet’s doctor is uniquely qualified to determine whether vaccination is right for your best friend.
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.