The holidays are the busiest time of year for boarding pets, and this season owners have a serious new issue to consider: whether dogs should first be immunized for canine influenza, also known as "dog flu."
Dog flu has now turned up in 40 states and is considered "endemic" in five, meaning it's always present in the background, according to Denver veterinarian Jeff Steen.
Places where many dogs gather — like kennels or dog parks — are common breeding grounds for such infections.
But unlike "kennel cough," which dog owners have dealt with for years, dog flu can be fatal in a small percentage of cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination poses an additional cost for owners. Two shots, given two to four weeks apart, cost about $20 each.
Some kennels require the shots before boarding.
Steen said the recently approved canine flu vaccine is a "killed" version and thus is not completely effective. "The Federal Drug Administration would not approve a 'live' vaccine," he said.
Bruce Miller, owner of Beds-N-Biscuits kennels in suburban Denver, said he is not requiring shots because not all veterinarians have the vaccine and he doesn't want to put the burden on his customers.
Among experts, there was general agreement on two points:
■ Dogs that don't spend much time around other canines don't need to be vaccinated.
■ Check with your vet before making a boarding decision.
Read more at cdc.gov/flu/canine.
Tips for boarding pets
■ Don't wait. Some kennels are filled or nearly full for Christmas.
■ Before booking, visit a kennel first and ask to go "in the back" where animals are kept.
■ Check out the kennel's rating with the Better Business Bureau.
■ Ask friends for recommendations.