Influenza Vaccine: To Require or Not to Require?
By Dr. Lisa Aumiller
Anyone that has ever had an outbreak shutters in fear at the thought of the next possible outbreak; angry clients, sick dogs, and cleaning…cleaning….cleaning. This discussion is meant to give kennel owners the pros, cons, and health considerations when making the decision about requiring influenza vaccines in pet clients.
In the past decade, clients have become increasingly sensitive about what vaccines they want to give their pet. There has been a major shift in the veterinary industry towards wellness, individual lifestyle considerations for pets, and a ‘less is more’ approach is often seen by clients as superior.
In general, the majority of the time, symptoms of upper respiratory infections in dogs are mild and require no treatment or a brief course of antibiotics and cough suppressants. In rare cases, especially in the immunocompromised, influenza can progress to pneumonia.
Influenza vaccines currently are either available as an H3 or H8, or the combo H3/H8. The dog vaccine, unlike the human vaccine, does not change and has not been reevaluated based on how the disease may mutate year after year. Finally, prominent immunologists like Jean Dodds, DVM point out that in cases of natural immunity (when a pet is exposed to an infection and mounts its own immune response), the pet often gets cross protection from those antibodies to prevent other infections. This response does not happen with vaccine exposure. Therefore, pets may build stronger immune systems by being allowed to have these infections that generally are not life threatening (just a nuisance.)
Not requiring the vaccine can open kennels up to backlash if an outbreak occurs. Clients may have the perception that you failed to protect their pets. ALL kennels, whether you require the vaccine or not, should have excellent client communication skills and consider implementing all of the following:
- Explain at initial introductions that in group situations pets may catch colds and have clients sign a waiver saying that this was discussed.
- Have a thorough cleaning protocol.
- Train and reevaluate cleaning by staff frequently.
- Have zones for air flow and an area for isolation.
- Perform brief check in and exit exams on each pet, looking for signs of upper respiratory infections.
- Provide an information sheet regarding any disease that has been reported in your kennel.
Nothing is better than having a good preventative cleaning and check in protocol and a proactive response to a disease occurring in the kennel. This shows your clients that you are not only communicating with them but have an action plan to prevent further sickness within the kennel.
If three pets show signs of an upper respiratory infection, swab one of the pets for further information. Most vaccine companies now have guarantees where they will pay up to $5,000 if a pet gets an upper respiratory infection that they are vaccinated for. Zoetis has the best guarantees currently for Influenza and Bordetella if the vaccines were administered.
In conclusion, the current trend with pet owners towards a ‘less is more’ approach makes it hard for kennel owners who have to make ‘herd health’ decisions to protect their businesses. The influenza debate is one that will never be settled in the kennel/daycare community. My best recommendation is to speak with the veterinarians in your community about what they recommend for vaccination. I think vaccine decisions are best made between the veterinarian and the patient where they have time to discuss pros and cons of vaccinating or not. In either case, take measurements to protect your business by implementing the above suggestions with your team and communicate and educate your clients every opportunity you can. Good luck!