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First Canine Influenza Vaccine
U.S. Department of Agriculture approves protection against the contagious virus.
Dogs are most likely to contract the canine flu when in close contact with other dogs, such as in kennels or obedience classes.

Lately the flu, specifically the swine variety, has been on everyone’s minds. While the H1N1 swine flu doesn’t pose much of a threat to our pets, there is a risk of contracting the H3N8 dog flu, a highly contagious respiratory illness. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had approved the first vaccine for the canine influenza. The vaccine does not always prevent infection, but it decreases the severity and duration of the illness.

Canine influenza was first identified in 2004 when pneumonia killed a third of racing greyhounds in Florida. Today, the flu has been found in 30 states and the District of Columbia, mostly in close quarters like animal shelters and pet stores. The flu has hit Florida, New York, Philadelphia, and Colorado the hardest.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, one of the early researchers of the virus, estimates that over 10,000 dogs have been infected in the United States, a hefty number but small compared to the nation’s 70 million dogs. At one time there was a fear that the flu would kill one to ten percent of the nation’s dogs. 

Most dogs have no immunity to the dog flu, so it has the potential to spread quickly. The virus can be passed through a water bowl or person’s clothes, no direct dog-dog contact is necessary. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans.

Symptoms, which may not show up until several days after contracting the virus, include coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. However, a laboratory test is the only conclusive way to know if you dog has canine influenza. Most pups make a full recovery, but if it progresses to pneumonia, it can be life-threatening. Unlike human influenza, the dog flu infections occur year round.

I try to minimize the number of vaccines that my pets receive. For instance, my crew gets blood titers instead of boosters at their annual checkup. My dogs seem to be in the moderate risk group -- I never board them, but they do have a lot of contact with other canines at obedience school and agility trials. I’m leaning towards not vaccinating since the overall risk doesn’t seem high, but I plan on consulting with my veterinarian to get his opinion before making a final decision. 

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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