Q I just read your September article on the canine flu. There was no mention of the flu vaccine. Are you in favor of giving dogs this injection?
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Tucker,
A There is currently no vaccine against the strain of canine flu virus — H3N2 — that made the rounds this past year. There are two vaccines available against an older strain — H3N8 — that first appeared more than 10 years ago. It is unknown whether either of the H3N8 vaccines will provide any protection against H3N2, although studies have shown that it may significantly reduce the severity and duration of illness if the symptoms do in fact arise from H3N8 itself. In addition, the vaccine reduces the amount of virus shed. Thus, vaccinated dogs that become infected not only develop less severe illness than they might have otherwise but are less likely to spread the virus to other dogs. These benefits are similar to those provided by the flu vaccine for people.
That said, the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, points out that the canine flu vaccine is a “lifestyle” vaccine and is not recommended for every dog. In general, the AVMA says, the vaccine is intended only for the protection of dogs at risk for exposure, which includes those dogs that participate in activities with many other dogs or are housed in communal facilities, particularly where the virus is prevalent. “Dogs that may benefit from canine influenza vaccination include those that receive the kennel cough vaccine, because the risk groups are similar,” the AVMA comments, adding, “dog owners should consult with their veterinarian to determine whether their dog’s lifestyle includes risks for exposure…and if vaccination is appropriate for their dog.”