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My Pet World: Canine influenza can be fatal

September 21, 2010|By Steve Dale

It's flu season for people, as well as for their dogs. It turns out that dogs have their own brand of flu. The canine influenza virus (CIV) is fairly new, discovered in 2004. And just as there's a flu shot for people, now there's also a flu shot for dogs.

Canine influenza "is not something you want to mess with," said Dr. Monica Webb, a private practicing veterinarian. Webb hadn't seen CIV in her community until a few months ago when a West Highland White Terrier came into her office in desperate shape.

"The dog was coughing pretty bad, a deeper cough than what we sometimes see with bordetella (kennel cough). It seemed pretty clear the dog had pneumonia," Webb recalled. Testing determined the pneumonia was due to CIV, which sometimes develops into pneumonia. With aggressive treatment, this dog will recover — but some don't.

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CIV is extremely infectious. Since Webb has a kennel at her facility, she began to request the CIV vaccine for all the dogs boarded there, as well as social dogs of clients that come in regular contact with other dogs.

"I'm not one for recommending all vaccines," Webb said. "But clearly the canine flu is here, and what if yours is the dog who gets the flu because I didn't recommend vaccination? About 10% of the dogs do die."

Of equal concern to Webb are the 20% of dogs with the virus who never develop symptoms but are still infectious — and can spread flu in the community.

The CIV vaccine isn't necessarily a magic bullet. It often prevents dogs from getting the flu, but not always. Sometimes it only lessens symptoms. But that's welcome since the symptoms can be pretty severe. New research just published in the journal "Veterinary Microbiology" suggests there may be lung lesions in dogs with CIV who aren't displaying symptoms of pneumonia.

Terri Wasmoen, an author of the published research and head of vaccine research at U.S. Intervet Scheiring-Plough, said that if 10% or more of a dog's lungs are affected by pneumonia resulting from CIV, dogs exhibit some sort of distress.

Of course, veterinarians respond with appropriate treatment. However, some dogs with CIV might have a lower percent of their lungs affected by virus, so the pets are asymptotic. Unknowing owners don't realize there are lung lesions prone to bacterial infection.

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