Canine influenza is not swine flu but should I vaccinate for it?

With all the talk of H1N1 in the news, I have started to get some questions on the canine influenza virus also known as N3H8 virus. And this year because a new vaccine for canine influenza came out, many of the questions are about if vaccination is important.

So what is my overall recommendation.

Don’t vaccinate for it

So from the beginning – here is what we know

  • This virus has been around since at least 2004 and probably since as early as 1999 but was originally thought to be a problem in greyhounds only.
  • At first there was a lot of fear because greyhounds can get a hemorrhagic symptom from this virus that involves bleeding into their lungs and often times death. We have since found out that this virus does not cause that problem in other breeds.
  • Most canine influenza presents as a mild kennel cough with a mild fever. A full 20-25% of dogs with canine influenza do not show any symptoms at all. Some dogs do get very sick with canine influenza and a very small percentage die of secondary lung infections. From my research it seems that canine influenza is no more of a problem then kennel cough and most dogs recover with no medical intervention. Occasionally antibiotics are needed.
  • Canine influenza is not causally passed. It usually takes 3-4 days of exposure with an infected dog for a dog to catch it. This is most likely in boarding and shelter situations.
  • Earlier this year a new vaccine for canine influenza was released on a conditional license. What this means is the USDA allowed release of this vaccine without as much testing as is normally needed to release a vaccine. While the minimal drug company studies showed that this vaccine is safe, there is no long term data on how safe this vaccine is in the long run or how effective it is.
  • From my experience, most vaccine side effects in dogs are not immediately observed.
  • The vaccine also doesn’t prevent infection with or shedding of the influenza virus (same as the vaccines for H1N1), but rather decreases the symptoms of the disease.

So we have a vaccine which we do not know much about and like most vaccines probably has side effects, which doesn’t prevent infection or transmission of influenza, for a disease that is not deadly in most dogs. Hmm…. Once again doesn’t sound so good to me.

To me the benefits of this vaccine do not outweigh the possible risks. If you haven’t read my article on dog vaccination I recommend it. I have seen more dogs suffer from vaccine side effects in my practice then I have seen dogs vaccinated with a minimal core protocol (as I recommend) come down with infectious disease.

What is worrisome is that many boarding kennels and groomers are requiring this vaccine. I believe that this vaccine should be a choice between a dog’s person and their veterinarian. I also think most boarding kennels do not realize that this vaccine does not prevent disease.

For further reading here are some good resources on canine influenza -

The Center for Food Safety and Public Health of Iowa State University

Ten thing to know about the H3N8 dog flu from the New York Times

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