This winter there has been considerable talk regarding the Canine Influenza Virus, also known as H3N8. Although it is present in 30 states, this virus is not common in most pets and only a few isolated areas of the country have experienced major problems. The virus thrives in shelters, kennels and other environments where dogs are housed in close quarters. However, all dogs are at risk so it's a good idea to be aware of a few tips for prevention and care in the event your dog is exposed to the virus.
The FDA approved a vaccine for prevention of H3N8. For the vaccine to be effective, it needs to be a two dosage series that are given three weeks apart, and it is preferable that the last dosage is given one to two weeks before exposure to solidify immunity. Like many flu vaccines, the vaccine for H3N8 reduces the occurrence of symptoms but does not prevent the disease. This means that your pet could still contract H3N8 after having the vaccines, but the clinical signs associated with the disease should be reduced.
There is debate on whether the vaccine should be recommended for all patients. Many veterinarians are not recommending the vaccine for all patients, but some patients could benefit from it, and the veterinarians are handling the need for this vaccine on a case by case basis. However, some boarding facilities are starting to require the vaccine even if there has not been a documented outbreak. Therefore, if you are boarding you may be required to have this vaccine. If you are concerned that your pet may have exposure to this virus or are required to have it in order to board, you are encouraged to contact your veterinarian immediately to ensure its availability. You are also encouraged to contact your boarding facility ahead of time to find out if it is required.
Another tip to prevent exposure is to avoid unnecessary contact with unfamiliar dogs. Pets at a higher risk for contracting the virus include young or old dogs and dogs with compromised immune systems.
If you are concerned that your dog has been exposed to Canine Influenza, symptoms to look for are a cough and high fever. However, it’s important to note these can also indicate health problems not associated with influenza. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to have your dog examined so that immediate care can be provided for them.
One last thing to note, Canine Influenza is different from the human strain and has not been shown to be contagious to humans or other animals. Although we want you to be safe, there is no need to keep your dogs inside since their exposure is likely to be minimal.
Dr. Jones is the owner and founder of Atlanta’s popular Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital, as well as the vet for Victoria’s dog, Sadie. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he received his doctorate of veterinary medicine from Tufts University of Veterinary Medicine and has served as the veterinary consultant for episodes of It’s Me or the Dog filmed in the Atlanta area.
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