Why Does Pet Camp Require the Dog Flu Vaccine?

Pet Camp and many, but not all, pet care facilities in San Francisco require that all dogs be vaccinated against CIV, also known as dog flu.  Because not every San Francisco veterinarian asks pet parents about the dog flu vaccine, and others treat this vaccine as a “lifestyle” vaccine, there are times when Pet Camp misses out on an overnight care or dog daycare visit with the associated loss in revenue when a potential client arrives without this required vaccine.  When this happens there is also, sadly, an upset now not client standing in our lobby.  Now in our defense, our vaccine requirements are on our web page, discussed when a new client makes a reservation and listed on our confirmation emails – but nevertheless this happens.  So, given the potential downside of lost revenue and an upset potential client, why do we require this vaccine when some other pet care facilities don’t?  The answer, as hokey as this may sound, is that we care about your dog and we care about all the dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 2018, the dog flu came to San Francisco.  It had been in other parts of the United States after first being detected in Florida, but it had never been detected in San Francisco.  San Francisco dogs, having never been exposed to this virus, were a naïve population and the “new” (to our dogs) virus spread quickly.  Perhaps this sounds like a more recent human virus story?  We knew that there was a vaccine for dog flu before the flu hit us, but we were incapable of getting veterinarians to stock and/or administer the vaccine.  Of course, once the virus was here, there was great receptivity to stocking and administering the vaccine.  Pet Camp hosted several dog flu vaccine clinics and even offered free dog daycare to clients whose dogs got both doses of the vaccine at one of our clinics.  Hmm, a multi-dose vaccine against a virus? The overlap thickens.

In response to the CIV outbreak, we, along with several other pet care facilities in both San Francisco and Oakland, met with representatives of the vaccine manufacturer and we all agreed to require the dog flu vaccine as a way to protect both the dogs under our collective care and the Bay Area dog population if we could achieve (you guessed it) herd immunity.   Since then, as mentioned above, many pet care facilities have continued to require the dog flu vaccine, but a few seem to have decided that the cost of turning away business because a dog is unvaccinated does not outweigh the benefit of the vaccine and only “highly recommend” the dog flu vaccine.  They have made their thought process on this change very clear:  (1) there hasn’t been a dog flu issue in San Francisco in a number of years; (2) while there are outbreaks of the dog flu elsewhere in the country, if it comes back, we can start requiring the vaccine; (3) the CIV vaccine (like most vaccines we point out) is not 100% effective; and (4) why turn away otherwise good business?

Given the experience of the last few years, we thought it would be clear why waiting for an outbreak of CIV to get your dog vaccinated is too late, but since we are apparently wrong about this, here are a few reasons why waiting until there is another outbreak of the dog flu is too late to start vaccinating dogs:

  1. Incubation Period: After exposure to the virus, there’s an incubation period before symptoms appear. During this time, the virus is already spreading and can infect other dogs. If you wait for an outbreak to occur, your dog might already be exposed or infected by the time you decide to vaccinate.
  2. Vaccine Administration: When a dog is vaccinated, the immune system needs time to recognize the vaccine components and create an immune response. This response involves the production of antibodies that can effectively fight off the virus. This process is not instantaneous.
  3. Booster Shots: The CIV vaccine requires two initial doses a few weeks apart to establish full immunity. Yes, we think the initial dose provides adequate short-term protection, but waiting until an outbreak occurs means your dog won’t have the full protection provided by the vaccine series when the problem starts.
  4. Exposure Risk: During an outbreak, the risk of exposure to the virus is significantly higher. By the time you arrange for the vaccination and it becomes effective, your dog could have already been exposed.
  5. Community Immunity: Widespread vaccination helps establish community immunity – that elusive “herd immunity.” By vaccinating your dog ahead of time, you contribute to this community immunity and help prevent outbreaks in the first place.
  6. Disease Severity: Canine influenza can range from mild to severe. Waiting until an outbreak occurs means your dog could potentially experience a more severe form of the illness if exposed. It is true that the CIV vaccine is not 100% effective, as is the case with most vaccines, but, also as with most vaccines, vaccination helps reduce the severity of symptoms even if a vaccinated dog does contract the virus.

In sum, vaccinating your dog against canine influenza before an outbreak is the most effective way to ensure your dog is protected. Vaccination not only reduces the likelihood of infection but also contributes to limiting the spread of the virus within the dog population.  At a time when most people in the San Francisco Bay Area understand the need for vaccines against a “new” human virus, understand that a virus can spread even when the host is asymptomatic, and understand that by the time there is an outbreak it is too little, too late, to administer a pre-existing vaccine; it is disappointing that not all pet care facilities understand this as well – or at least are willing to accept that to do the right thing sometimes costs a business some revenue.

Thanks for reading.

Pet Camp has been providing award winning pet care in San Francisco since 1997.  With 3 family owned and operated locations within San Francisco to service dogs and cats we offer dog day care, dog and cat overnight care, dog training, bathing and pet transportation.  If you have a question about your dog or cat, dog day care or any of the other services we offer please give us a call at 415-282-0700 and chat with one of our counselors.