You’ve heard of flu outbreaks making people sick, but they can happen to dogs, too. Our doggie friends can catch "canine influenza," which not only makes them feel bad, but can be dangerous to them.
It’s not a new condition. Scientists discovered one strain of this flu, called the H3N8 virus, more than 40 years ago. At the time, it only affected horses. But in 2004, a group of greyhounds in Florida got sick with it. It now spreads easily between dogs. There is also a newer strain, called H3N2.
If you know the signs, you can help your dog feel better, or maybe keep them from getting sick at all.
"Just like when people get the flu, you can expect your dog to sneeze, have a runny nose, and cough,” says Barry N. Kellogg, senior veterinary advisor to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Your dog may also be tired and not have their usual appetite. Some dogs also can have a fever of 104-106 F.
Sometimes, you may not know your dog has the virus. Up to 20% of dogs with the flu don’t show any symptoms.
Most dogs that get the virus survive it. But canine influenza "can cause more serious illness than the average respiratory infection,” says Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
In some cases, this type of flu can turn into pneumonia. At that point, the disease becomes more dangerous. Puppies and older dogs are more likely to get severely ill once they’re infected.
All ages and sizes of dogs are equally at risk. But “dogs with ‘smushed-in’ faces like pugs, French bulldogs, and Pekinese may have a tougher time dealing with the flu,” Crawford says. “Because of the anatomy of their respiratory tract, any respiratory illness takes a harder toll on them.”
How It Spreads
Dog flu is very contagious. Your pup can catch it when an infected dog sneezes or coughs on them. Since the virus also can live on objects, they could get it by putting an infected ball or toy into their mouth.
If your dog is exposed to the virus that causes dog flu, the chances of catching it are “close to 100%,” Crawford says. “The vast majority of dogs in the U.S. have not been previously infected or vaccinated against dog flu.”
It's possible for people to give their dogs the virus, too. If an infected dog coughs or sneezes on you, the virus can survive on your skin for 2 minutes and for a day or longer on your clothes -- and then it could be passed on to another dog.
What about people getting this kind of flu from their dogs? “So far, there have been no reported human cases,” says Amesh Adalja, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and School of Medicine. If you get the flu, you didn’t get the canine kind.
But flu viruses are great at adapting themselves to infect other animals, so there’s always a risk people could get it, Adalja says.
Just like people, dogs need rest and fluids, Kellogg says. Make sure your pet has a quiet, comfortable place to recover and plenty of water to drink. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics if your dog gets a bacterial infection along with the flu.
If your pet shows any signs that they are sick, it’s important to keep them away from other dogs. Avoid dog parks, kennels, or any other place where they’ll be around a lot of other dogs, Adalja says. Most dogs get better in 2-3 weeks.
Is There a Vaccine?
Yes. There is a vaccine for the H3N8 strain, one for the H3N2 strain, and a vaccine that covers both strains in one shot.
If you live in an area where there has been an outbreak of dog flu, or your pet often comes into close contact with other dogs, it might be a good idea for them to get vaccinated.
“The vaccine doesn’t necessarily prevent the flu,” Kellogg says, but will make it less severe. “Talk to your veterinarian and see if he or she recommends it.”