It’s being called a borderline epidemic. Never before has this strain been seen in the U.S. Turn on the news and we are told to get our dogs vaccinated. Or, they could die!!! It’s scary. What’s a loving, responsible dog and now cat owner to do? There’s been a lot of talk in the Chicago area about an outbreak of canine influenza. Now it’s reportedly spread to cats. So far, more than 1000 dogs have become ill, five dogs have died in the past month. That’s alarming for dog owners like me whose pets are almost as precious as our children.
So I decided to find out if the doggie flu shot was worth it. I honestly never thought about getting my dog a flu shot and hadn’t heard of it until recently. Here’s what I learned. First, Canine Influenza Vaccine or CIV apparently does NOT prevent infection. What it does do is prevent something called viral shedding once the infection is present. That means the vaccinated dogs that become infected are less likely to have severe symptoms and are not as contagious to other dogs. For some pet owners, that may be reason enough to get your pet vaccinated.
CIV is not part of the core vaccines recommended on a regular basis for dogs. It’s called a “lifestyle” vaccine intended for dogs at risk for exposure to CIV. That includes those that might stay in kennels or are frequently around many other dogs that are housed in communal facilities such as doggy day care centers and dog parks. If your dog fits into this category you may decide that’s a good enough reason to get the vaccination.
I spoke with Veterinarian Dr. Barbara Royal.
I met her a few years ago. She’s a “holistic veterinarian” and has written a book called “The Royal Treatment.” You might recognize her from Oprah and other TV appearances. I asked her if all dogs should get the vaccine? Her answer is NO! Not without careful consideration.
“The vaccine may not be effective for the worst strain of this outbreak. Each case should be evaluated in terms of risk, exposure and the effectiveness of the vaccine,” said Dr. Royal. Royal says based on everything she’s seen she’s not sure it makes sense to get the vaccine at all. She has chosen not to vaccinate her own dogs. She says clearly all of these viruses can become life-threatening but it’s not typical and only a very few number of animals have actually died from this.
Plus, we also need to consider how the vaccine effects our pets immune system. Dr. Royal says each vaccine can actually cause a temporary suppression of the immune system for about a week. That can make your pet even more susceptible to the virus just after receiving the vaccination. You should also know it’s not just one shot. CIV must be boosted 2-4 weeks after the first shot to become fully effective. It takes a week or two before it kicks in.
Yet, many veterinarians are recommending that we get our dogs vaccinated. So what do we do? It’s a decision that is best made by you. That’s why I write this article. We need to hear both sides. Don’t let scare tactics and fear make this decision for you. I have always resented drug companies pushing certain vaccines in an effort to make money. I’m not saying this is the case here. What I am saying is do your research and make an educated decision. I know what I’m NOT doing, I’m not exposing my dog to dog parks, groomers or day care centers for a while. At least until this influenza starts to wane.
You know what else I’m NOT doing. I’m not getting Dylan the CIV. Am I putting him at risk? I don’t think so. If you decide to get the vaccine, then you have made the right decision for you. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty, whatever you decide.
So what if you skip the vaccine? Are there some steps we can take? The answer is Yes! Here’s what Dr. Royal recommends:
1. Always support health first.
2. Feed a balanced diet
3. High protein low carbohydrate diet: preferable a fully balanced commercially prepared raw or homemade or high quality canned food
4. Plenty of fresh water
5. Keep away from exposure to infected dogs: avoid day care, dog parks, dog classes and boarding for a bit
6. Talk to your vet about possibly adding supplements to your dogs diet
Finally, if your dog is exposed to the virus, call your vet but know that as long as their immune system is healthy, they’ll either show no symptoms or recover without medical care. Oh and one more thing, give them lots of love and attention.
For what it’s worth, the canine flu is What’s On My Mind Today.