Dogs may need flu shots, too

Dr. Sara Ogden of Monticello Veterinary Practice in Winters, CA gives her four-legged patient flu vaccine. (Photo by Julia Millon)

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In the midst of a nasty flu season, humans are not the only victims. Cayce Wallace, a dog trainer with Laughing Dogs Academy in Davis, alerted the community to two cases of the dog flu she says were confirmed by lab results in Winters.

According to Wallace, the dogs came from a South Bay Area shelter and transferred to a local rescue group.

“I would advise all dog owners, especially puppy owners, to get their dogs vaccinated so we don’t have an outbreak here in our county,” said Wallace.

The South Bay Area dog population has experienced a high rate of the canine flu, likely due to more dogs coming into contact with each other. Eighty percent of dogs that come into contact with the flu show symptoms, and the virus has up to a 10 percent death rate, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Dr. Sara Ogden, a veterinarian at Monticello Veterinary Practice, located off Putah Creek Road in Winters, says the appearance of canine flu in Northern California does not come as a shock. She said this is the first year the flu has been confirmed, but it has appeared in Southern California in previous years.

“We have already seen it down south with racing greyhounds,” said Ogden, “We had a scare here a couple of years ago, so it’s been on the outskirts of our radar.”

Greyhounds, which are kept in close quarters are particularly susceptible to getting the disease, which is easily spread from one animal to another. The speedy dogs were first to get the first strain, H3N8, in 2004 in Florida from their fellow athletes — racehorses — which often share facilities.

The other strain present in the U.S. is H3N2, and is thought to originate from Asian bird markets, according to the AVMA.

According to Ogden, there are two different vaccines available, but her practice uses the more common bivalent version which guards against both strains of the canine flu.

“The flu is different in dogs,” said Ogden, “It has been the same strain year after year.”

Unlike the flu vaccine for dog owners, which is different each year, dogs who get their flu shot just need a booster of the same vaccine each year.

The vaccine costs $36 for each shot. One shot is administered initially, followed by a booster shot two to four weeks later. After the set, once a year is enough to keep the vaccine current.

According to the AVMA, cats can also get the virus, but Ogden says they are less likely to get sick.

“I would not be concerned about my cats,” she said.

Other than getting dogs vaccinated, precautions against the disease are the same as the human flu: wash your hands (and paws). Basic hygiene can stop the spread of the virus, which lives for 48 hours on surfaces, 12 hours on hands and 24 on clothes.

People who are generous with their dog-petting should be careful to wash off the virus, especially if they come into contact with a dog that is coughing, sneezing, uncharacteristically lazy and/or has nose or eye discharge.

If a pet is a regular at the dog park, stays at a kennel or goes to the groomer, a vaccine is the best way to protect against the flu.

Once a dog gets the virus and shows symptoms, the vet can provide some treatment and symptoms should resolve in two to three weeks. Anti-inflammatory medicine, antibiotics and extra fluids help dogs recover as much as they help humans.

“Getting the dog checked out right away can help,” said Odgen.

While the flu is quick to spread, Ogden does not believe Yolo County to be especially at-risk for a larger outbreak.

“It will be less intense than a high-population area,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect it to spread through here too much.”

As with human viruses, close contact with others spreads the disease, which is not caused by winter weather.

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