The majority of dogs who become ill with Canine Influenza will develop respiratory symptoms—coughing, sneezing, and nasal and eye discharge. However, some can become more seriously ill, even developing pneumonia. As in the outbreak in Chicago, a small percentage of patients can die as a result of the disease, even with extensive supportive care.
Canine Influenza is a reportable disease in Minnesota. What that means is that if a veterinarian confirms a diagnosis of canine influenza within the state she must notify the state veterinarian of the diagnosis. This helps keep track of disease incidence. Thus far there have been no cases of Canine Influenza within the state of Minnesota. But how likely is it to happen??
Canine Influenza is spread via respiratory secretions (aerosols) and contaminated objects. The virus can remain infectious on a surface for up to 48 hours. It can be carried on a person’s clothing for 24 hours, and on a person’s hands for 12 hours. Since it is a new disease, all dogs (no matter how young or old they may be) will be susceptible to infection since they have never been exposed to it. So if a dog does encounter the virus, a very high percentage will be infected and most will become symptomatic. Although generally 20-25% of exposed dogs will tend to develop no symptoms after exposure, they can still shed viral particles and thus spread the disease.
The incubation period for Canine Influenza is usually two to four days from initial exposure to onset of clinical signs. The highest amounts of viral shedding occur during this time; therefore, dogs are most contagious during this 2-4 day incubation period before they exhibit signs of illness. The amount of viral shedding decreases during the first 4 days of illness but may continue up to 7 days in most dogs and up to 10 days in some dogs.
Since dogs routinely travel with their families for vacations, dog shows and competitions, and any of a variety of other reasons, there is a significant risk of the virus coming into the state, and given the information listed above, it could spread very quickly once it is here. Clearly the dogs at greatest risk of exposure are those who travel to dog shows and competitions or have other exposure to dogs from out of state. Also on the list of at-risk dogs are resident pets for families to foster dogs from out of state. If the virus does occur within the area, it will likely show up first in boarding facilities and dog day cares, so those dogs will be the next at-risk population.
Although I tend to be quite conservative with my vaccination protocols, as a general rule, I have decided to order some Canine Influenza vaccines for at-risk dogs. This is not a vaccine which is recommended for ALL dogs. But if your dog will be traveling out of state for dog shows, will be around dogs who do so, or you routinely foster dogs from out of state, it is worth considering vaccinating for this disease.
A couple things to note regarding the Canine Influenza vaccine [Edit: these all still apply, even though the strain is different]:
- The Canine Influenza vaccine has not proven to completely prevent the disease. It does, however, reduce the probability of your dog becoming symptomatic from the disease if he or she is exposed, reduce the severity of symptoms if exposed, and reduce the amount of viral shedding if exposed (thus making him/ her less contagious to other dogs.)
- When your dog is vaccinated the first time for Canine Influenza, a second vaccine will be required 2-4 weeks later to obtain a strong immune response. After that, annual boostering is recommended.
- The vaccine manufacturer recommends giving the vaccine in conjunction with the canine distemper vaccine and bordetella vaccine if the dog is not current on those vaccines because those vaccines also help prevent respiratory viral diseases.
As I noted above, we are currently working on obtaining some limited inventory of Canine Influenza vaccine. We hope to be able to provide a vaccine event to make this readily available to those who are interested in the near future. Stay tuned for details—and of course let us know if you have further questions!!