Three days ago, I ran across a really great article that talks about fleas symptoms from a different light.

An investigative report by Canine Kingdom’s Marilyn Wilson.

Influenza. It’s a scary word these days. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 infected over 500,000 people worldwide (1/3 of the world population) and 50,000 died. Health authorities are scrambling to protect people from the H1N1 “swine flu” virus as 55 million children prepare to go back to school in a few weeks.

Scary days ahead for dog parents too, who are hearing new reports of a deadly dog flu which is sweeping the nation.

Most recently, the H3N8 virus, commonly called the “Dog Flu,” has led to the death of a15-year-old whippet last week, closing Virginia’s Fairfax County Animal Shelter, and, according to experts, is now affecting dogs in at least four other states: Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The virus was first identified in 2004 and there have been numerous outbreaks throughout the country, particularly in shelters, pounds, boarding kennels, dog show grounds, dog day care facilities, just about wherever large numbers of dogs are housed and where there is an influx of dogs coming and going.

In the past five years, over 30 states have experienced H3N8 outbreaks which are often sporadic and then die out. I would not feel complacent if you do not live in the above mentioned “hot” states, nor would I panic if you do.

Though all dogs become infected after contact with the virus, most survive. Symptoms in dogs can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and a respiratory infection that may last about two weeks. Generally, supportive care is sufficient, but, one to five percent of infected dogs die from a secondary bacterial infection – hemorrhagic pneumonia. Since most of these outbreaks occur in shelters and pounds, many of the dogs who died may have been debilitated with compromised immune systems unable to fight off infections. But like people, some perfectly healthy dogs have died after viral infection. If your dog starts to display any of the flu symptoms call your vet. Most will tell you to monitor your dog closely. If a fever develops your dog may need antibiotic therapy or even I.V. fluids.

I don’t want to trivialize the virus but I do not see it as a cause for panic. Common sense approaches can help – same kind used during human influenza season. Last spring my husband’s aunt, who is 87, postponed her trip to Australia because of the swine flu – she didn’t want to be trapped, all those hours, in a plane full of strangers, from all parts of the world, breathing, sneezing and coughing. Common sense.

If you live in one of the current endemic dog flu areas, I would avoid dog parks, animal shelters, boarding kennels, groomers, and such – any where there are large numbers of dogs, in close quarters, coming and going. If you are going on vacation and planning on boarding your dog I would reconsider that decision. Try to retain a home pet sitter and instruct them in proper sanitary procedures, particularly if they sit for numerous clients. Rocal is an excellent disinfectant and can easily be sprayed on shoes and clothing before and after contact with other dogs. Not all parts of the states mentioned above have been affected. Call your vet and animal shelter and ask about virus outbreaks in your specific locality.

This June, Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health announced that its canine influenza vaccine – the first approved to protect dogs from the contagious respiratory illness – has received a conditional product license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In one year the product will be reviewed again for formal approval.

This week I spoke with Dr. Jean Dodds, a world renowned vaccine scientist and practicing veterinarian. Dr. Dodds is the Co-chair of the Rabies Challenge Fund Charitable Trust which will determine the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines. The goal is to extend the required interval for rabies boosters to 5 and then to 7 years. I asked Dr. Dodds what she thought of this new vaccine.

This July, Dr. Dodds attended the 5th International Veterinary Vaccines and Diagnostics Conference where Schering-Plough representatives spoke of their new canine influenza virus vaccine. “The intent of this vaccine is for pounds and shelters where dogs are already stressed and/or debilitated. The vaccine may also be prescribed for dogs in very large boarding kennels in endemic areas,” Dr. Dodds said.

Vaccines – whether for us or our family members – are a complicated, personal issue. My husband and I choose to skip the flu and pneumonia yearly vaccines. We both had a rather bothersome flu this spring. But there is no way for us to know if a flu shot last fall would have helped. We do not vaccinate our dogs either. Titers indicate that they have immunity to the common dog diseases.

Dr. Dodds stressed that nutrition is ever so important in the development of strong immunes systems. We prepare home cooked meals for our dogs – a variety of fresh, human grade foods.

More common sense – poisons kill. What are you putting on your lawn? What kind of pesticides are you using for fleas and ticks? How often do you vaccinate your dog for other diseases? In these cases less is more.

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