Pets

Should your pet get vaccine against dog flu? It’s complicated

What is dog flu and how do you keep your pet safe?

Florida has its first outbreak of a highly contagious strain of dog flu that appeared in the U.S. in 2015, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
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Florida has its first outbreak of a highly contagious strain of dog flu that appeared in the U.S. in 2015, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Q: Should my dog get a flu shot? I hear that the dog flu is extremely easy to catch, and I walk him every day in the neighborhood where other dogs walk.

A: Since news broke of the dog flu here in Florida, veterinary offices all over the state have been fielding calls from concerned dog owners. Some are worried that their dogs’ current symptoms might be evidence of dog flu, but most are asking about preventing the virus through vaccination.

Like you, most want to know if the dog flu vaccine is “worth it.” They’re wondering whether their dog is likely to come into contact with the virus and, if so, whether their veterinarian recommends a vaccine to prevent it.

Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward. Though most veterinarians in the news seem to recommend the vaccine unreservedly, many experts advise that this vaccine be administered only to dogs at moderate risk of exposure or who are likely to suffer unduly should they become infected.

Though this may change in future months, the disease is not yet considered prevalent enough to warrant a blanket vaccine recommendation as we do for parvovirus or distemper. Moreover, like the human flu vaccine, this one isn’t considered 100 percent effective. It is reported to decrease the severity of a flu.

For dogs, most veterinarians recommend the flu vaccine for those who attend dog shows, stay at boarding facilities, frequent dog events, training classes or parks or are housed in the same room with other dogs when they go to a grooming parlor. Dogs who may enjoy casual interactions on the street (like yours) are not typically included in this group.

Here’s the thing, though: Even if your dog is only a casual dog greeter, the vaccine may still be appropriate. This depends on his risk of suffering more severely should he become infected. Dogs with chronic respiratory illnesses, including dogs who hail from short-headed breeds (bulldogs and pugs, etc.), should also receive this vaccine.

Finally, there are a couple of things to consider before calling your veterinarian to make an appointment: The vaccine needs to be administered twice, usually about three weeks apart, before it’s considered effective. (It must then be boosted annually.) Since it’s been in short supply, you should make sure your veterinarian will have enough vaccines on hand to see you through two rounds.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net.

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