The Ruff Report: Dogs and Health

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The flu bug can bite your dog, too

If your dog begins to sniffle, cough and sneeze, get ready for some rough days ahead because those are signs that your pet may be coming down with the flu.

Like people, dogs also can be stricken and they even have their own highly contagious - and sometimes life-threatening - influenza virus, a leading veterinary expert says.

About 80 percent of the dogs exposed to the virus become infected and develop flu-like symptoms, according to Cynda Crawford, a veterinarian at the University of Florida, who has studied the virus since its outbreak in 2004. Dogs lack a preexisting immunity, therefore canines of any breed, age or health status are susceptible.

"Fortunately, most dogs recover within two weeks without any further health complications," Dr. Crawford told "However, some dogs progress to pneumonia, which is usually due to secondary bacterial infections. While the overall mortality rate for canine influenza is low, the secondary pneumonia can be life-threatening."

Treatment consists mainly of supportive care - including administering of antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections - while the virus runs its course, much like with human influenza, Dr. Crawford said. Dogs with pneumonia are likely to need intensive care in a hospital.

Pet parents who have dogs at high risk of contracting canine influenza - like those that spend time in shelters, boarding and training facilities, day care centers, dog shows, veterinary clinics, pet stores and grooming parlors - should consider getting their pets vaccinated, Dr. Crawford said.

"Although the vaccine may not prevent infection, efficacy trials have shown that vaccination significantly reduces the severity and duration of clinical illness, including the incidence and severity of damage to the lungs," Crawford states.

"In addition, the vaccine reduces the amount of virus shed and shortens the shedding interval," Dr. Crawford said. "This means that vaccinated dogs that become infected have less illness and are not as contagious to other dogs. These benefits are similar to those provided by influenza vaccines used in other species, including humans."

According to Dr. Crawford, who has been studying the canine virus since its discovery in 2004, canine influenza has been documented in 30 states and the District of Columbia. It can occur year-round.

A dog can get the virus by contact with infected dogs or by aerosols generated by coughing and sneezing, Dr. Crawford said. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs.

"Fortunately, the virus is easily inactivated by washing hands, clothes and other items with soap and water," she said.

The vaccine, developed by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, recently received approval for use from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is administered by subcutaneous injection in two doses, two to four weeks apart. The vaccine may be given to dogs age six weeks or older and can be given annually to ensure more comprehensive protection.

"We developed the vaccine in response to the growing problem of the disease," Christopher Pappas Jr., a veterinarian for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, states in a media release. "We are pleased that our expertise in respiratory disease and vaccines can help prevent costly outbreaks and keep dogs healthier."

The American Veterinary Medical Association, which in 2006 advocated the necessity of developing such a vaccine, lauded the news of the federal government's approval of the vaccine.

"The AVMA is pleased that the USDA has approved the use of a vaccine in dogs to help prevent the spread of canine influenza and to help keep dogs healthy," Lynne White-Shim, assistant director in the AVMA Scientific Activities Division, told

"Shortly after the emergence of canine influenza, some people were not convinced that the disease existed and consequently did not believe a vaccine should be developed," Dr. White-Shim explained. "When AVMA examined the issue, we learned that the disease was sickening racing greyhounds and dogs in some shelters. Thus, AVMA has been an advocate for the development of an efficacious vaccine to protect those dogs at significant risk."Dr. White-Shim urges dog owners to consult with their veterinarians about whether their pet should be vaccinated. "As with all vaccinations, the veterinarian and dog owner should discuss individual disease risks to determine if the vaccine is recommended," she said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in conjunction with the Morris Animal Foundation of Denver, has launched a study of canine influenza in hopes of better understanding the virus and developing treatments.

"Canine influenza is a newly emerging disease that does not discriminate by breed or age," ASPCA veterinarian Miranda Spindel states in a media release. "It is critical that we gain a better understanding of the transmission of CIV in order to limit its effects."

In addition to examining the spread of the virus among shelter dogs, the study will determine whether a rapid "bedside" test can be effectively used for screening dogs upon entering a shelter. If such a test were available, dogs could be tested and kept separate from the main shelter population and treated to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The study will try to determine how the virus changes over time, a process known as "genetic drift." As with human flu viruses, animal influenza viruses constantly evolve. New strains can develop that require new vaccines.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs and other companion pets also can get flu viruses - like the H1N1 virus - from people. So far, four ferrets in Oregon and a cat in Iowa have gotten the H1N1 virus a short time after people in their households had the illness. No dogs have gotten the H1N1 virus.

Dr. Emilio DeBess, Oregon's public health veterinarian, says pet owners should take precautions to help reduce the spread of influenza between themselves and their pets.

"The key message is to protect your animals much like you protect your family," he states in a media release. "Wash your hands, cover your cough and your sneeze, and do your best to prevent contaminating objects your pet may come into contact with."