Over the past few months, news outlets, veterinarians and vaccine manufacturers have all been warning the public about the canine influenza epidemic that has hit nearly 100 dogs in New York City and elsewhere. However, Dr. Glynes D. Graham — owner and primary veterinarian of Patterson Dog & Cat Hospital in Detroit — says that there is "no need to panic." She said that although vaccination is always a personal decision for the pet owner, "there are many precautions" available for those who are concerned.
"People need to do a risk assessment for their dogs," she said. "Does everybody need it? Absolutely not. If your dog doesn't go places, it doesn't need the vaccination. I think it's reasonable for dogs that spend time at day care and the dog park to get it. It's what we have available, and is certainly a level of protection for dogs with more active social lives that are constantly being exposed to other dogs."
The American Veterinary Medical Association provides similar advice: dogs in close contact with potentially infected dogs in places such as kennels, groomers, day care facilities and shelters are at an increased risk of infection.
At present, two strains of the virus have been identified in the U.S.: the original H3N8 and the newer H3N2, and the contagious viral infection can affect cats as well as dogs. The AVMA reports that an infected animal is usually contagious for two to eight days after it contracts the illness.
The main symptom is coughing, which can last from 10 to 21 days, but the disease can also be accompanied by sneezing, fever, nasal discharge, decreased appetite and general lethargy. A dog's cough can make the virus airborne up to 20 feet, and it can spread through direct animal-to-animal contact, human-to-dog contact and from contaminated objects like dog bowls. Some dogs can also contract severe illness, like pneumonia, when they are infected. Graham said juvenile and elderly dogs, and dogs with other health issues, tend to be more at risk.
"Some dogs don't show symptoms at all and it resolves itself without any treatment. But if there are symptoms, they are generally mild and the fatality rate is pretty low, like less than one percent," she said, noting that treatment is based on the dog's symptoms.
Graham also said that while it's true the vaccination doesn't prevent infection, it offers three key benefits: it decreases the severity of the illness if it is contracted, it reduces the risk of it spreading and the length of infection.
"I don't see any reason not to use it if they need it," she said.
For those pet owners worried about side effects, Graham said they aren't very common, but they're more likely to affect smaller breeds. However, if they do occur, pet owners should watch out for fatigue, as it's the most common. Other possible symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress, facial swelling, pale gums and pain at the site of the injection.
"Any pet can react to a vaccine, and while the risk is low it's one of the things owners have to take into consideration," Graham said. "Their pet's preventive health and their own concerns about vaccination."
There is no evidence that either strain of canine influenza can infect humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
"Panic is a reasonable initial reaction, but take a deep breath and talk to your veterinarian to assess the risk," said Graham. "Also, rely on your daycare and other professionals to give you the appropriate information to help you make these kinds of decisions."
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's current report of confirmed 147 cases of canine influenza across Michigan since Aug. 31:
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