Canine Influenza

Two Cases 300 miles apart do not constitute an epidemic....


 There has been a lot of media buzz lately about canine influenza.

Call me bitter and skeptical, but I have a hard time believing most things I read or hear about in the media these days.  They seem to blow everything up into a crisis.  My eyes roll whenever I hear about the latest "storm of the century."  That means it might snow.

In the midst of all the media hype, I feel it is my role as your Veterinarian to give un-biased advice.  
  • One dog in Boise and one dog in Rigby do not constitute an epidemic.
  • We are not seeing local dogs at our clinic that have flu-like symptoms.
  • The problem seems much bigger on the news than it is in reality.

Based on the above, I believe that 

It is a little premature to recommend immediate widespread vaccination for Canine Influenza in Idaho Falls

 So don't panic.


However, there are two sides to every story, and I have a hard time making too strong a case against vaccinating.


In fact, there are some things that make it tempting to consider vaccinating:
  • It takes four to six weeks to develop full immunity to Canine Influenza.  It is possible that we could have an actual outbreak in six weeks time, and by then it would be too late.
  • Boarding Facilities in Pocatello are beginning to require Canine Influenza vaccinations, and I expect Idaho Falls will follow at some point.
  • If it's your dog that gets sick, it doesn't matter if it's not an epidemic
  • It's better to be safe than sorry
  • Vaccination is how we prevent epidemics
Bottom Line:  At this point it does not seem necessary to vaccinate dogs for Canine Influenza.


At-Risk dogs who probably should be vaccinated include dogs that

  • Travel, Board, or are Groomed a lot
  • Are exposed to dogs who travel, board, or are groomed a lot
  • Are exposed to a lot of dogs in general 
  • Elderly or immunocompromised dogs
Respiratory Disease in Dogs

As with people, respiratory disease in dogs can be caused by numerous things, and it is not uncommon to find that a given patient may have more than one at a time.  Common causes include the following, viruses in green, baceteia in blue:

  • Parainfluenza
  • Adenovirus-2
  • Respiratory coronavirus 
  • Herpesvirus-1
  • Pneumovirus
  • Canine Influenza H3N8
  • Canine Influenza H3N2
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Mycoplasma spp.
  • Streptococcus zooepidemicus 
The ones we can vaccinate for are bolded.


So, What About  Canine Influenza?

Canine Influenza has been around for many years now.  The first cases appeared in 2004, and since then there have been sporadic outbreaks from time to time.  The last major outbreak was in 2015 in the midwest.  The current episode is just the latest one, and while it makes good news headlines, it is not that big a problem.

Influenza Viruses are known by their H and N numbers.  This is a way scientists have of classifying them and telling one strain from the next.  The original canine influenza was H3N8.  There is a newer strain that  is a little different in that it appears to be H3N2, a strain originally identified in Asia. 

You will note that in the list above, H3N2 is listed separately from H3N8.  That's because they are different viruses.  There is some cross-protection for the H3N8 strain provided by the H3N2 vaccine, and vise versa, but not as much as we'd like. 

That's why at our clinic we will be using a bi-valent vaccine that contains both H3N2 and H3N8.  It is worth noting that H3N8 has been isolated in sick dogs in Salt Lake. 


Canine Influenza is a lot like the influenza people get

This does not mean Canine Influenza is contagious to people, it just means the viruses behave in similar ways and cause similar diseases.  Dogs with Canine Influenza have a fever, cough, and feel sick, just like people.  Dogs that have influenza will be sicker than most dogs that have some of the other upper respiratory diseases.

The news media sometimes make Canine Influenza sound like it's highly lethal.  It's not.  Most infected dogs get sick, get over it, and all is well.  Rarely there are complications.  But there can be.  The media has reported over 1000 cases, but only 5 deaths.  When you consider the 1000's of mild cases that never got diagnosed, the mortality rate becomes quite low. This compares well to influenza in humans, where there is a small but real mortality rate.


What to do if your dog starts to cough

If your dog starts to cough, don't panic.  It's probably not Canine Influenza.  It could be any number of other viruses and/or bacteria, however.  It is always a good idea to seek veterinary care. 


While these diseases are not often fatal, they are uncomfortable for the dog and quite bothersome for the owner as well.  We can prescribe medications to help your dog feel better and to quit coughing as well.  Most things that make dogs cough are highly contagious, so do not take your coughing dog out in public, especially to groomers, dog parks, etc.


More information

For more information, click here to visit the American Veterinary Medical Association website.