Pet Points: Should your dog get a flu shot?

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Fall is here and flu season is just around the corner. I visited my physician and was vaccinated earlier in the week. Should your dog have one, too?

News reports about an increase of canine flu in Pennsylvania have prompted calls to my office. Outbreaks in eastern and central Pennsylvania have veterinarians on alert. First noted at greyhound tracks years ago, this infectious respiratory disease was determined to be H3N8 influenza and thought to be a mutation of the same virus in horses.

Vaccinations for canine influenza are not universally recommended at this point. Inquiries at local veterinary clinics and emergency services have not shown the canine flu to be a problem here -- yet. However, owners who travel with their dogs, especially to dog shows or field trials, might want to ask their veterinarians for advice on whether to vaccinate. Cats are not normally affected.

The vaccine aids in decreasing symptoms and initially is given twice at a three-week interval and then annually. The vaccine is safe to use without any significant side effects.

Dogs infected with flu get a fever and nasal discharge. Pneumonia can follow infection and has the potential to be fatal. Infections can be severe at a kennel, veterinary hospital or animal shelter. Any coughing dog should be examined by a veterinarian.

Isolation of infected or suspected dogs is critical, and outbreaks can be controlled by preventing additional exposure. I have heard reports of dogs getting ill from attending shows where widespread exposure has occurred.

To get a specific diagnosis, veterinarians can send samples to labs for testing. Statistics from Cornell University show that 25 percent of suspected dogs were positive for influenza from samples submitted by Pennsylvania veterinarians.

Unlike people, who tend to get the flu in fall or winter, dogs have less exposure in the cold weather. Spring would be my guess as to when canine flu would show up. Once dogs start to visit parks and boarding facilities, the close contact increases the potential for infection.

The regular kennel cough vaccine for bordatella is highly recommended for dogs who go to kennels or have regular contact with other dogs at day care, parks, dog shows or field trials. Canine influenza may soon be added to the vaccines recommended for those dogs.

This potentially serious infection deserves to be watched carefully. Vaccination and limiting contact with infected dogs are the best precautions.

petstories

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email petpoints@post-gazette.com. Please include name and municipality or neighborhood.


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