Flu season is here and while we usually think about our human selves when we hear about the “flu,” we, as pet parents, should be prepared in case our dogs get the flu as well. Yes, that’s right. Dogs can get the flu, too! Most cases are not fatal, but the canine influenza virus can make your pet very sick and uncomfortable. The best thing to do is educate yourself on the symptoms associated with the dog flu so you can know what to look for if there is an outbreak around you!
What is the Dog Flu?
The Dog Flu, which is known as the canine influenza virus is an infectious respiratory disease caused by virus strain, influenza A virus, that is similar to the ones that infect people. The two known strains found in the US are H3N8 and H3N2.
H3N8 is a virus that was first found in horses, but jumped to dogs in 2004. The first outbreaks affected Greyhounds at a racing track in Florida.
H3N2 was first detected in Asia and where it is believed to have jumped from birds to dogs. This strain was responsible for the 2015-2016 outbreaks in the Midwest and still spreads throughout the US.
How is Dog Flu Spread?
Dog Flu transmission is similar to how human strains of influenza are spread -- through the air. Coughing, barking, and sneezing causes respiratory droplets to suspend in the air, where they can be inhaled by a new canine host. Contaminated objects or environments can also contribute to the spread of the virus. It can also be spread if an infected dog comes into contact with a human, who then comes in contact with an uninfected dog.
In the event of an outbreak, crowded high-contact areas such as kennels, grooming parlors, day care centers, and dog parks should be avoided because they are breeding grounds for diseases such as the dog flu. Being around many other dogs that could spread the virus should also be avoided, especially since dogs are most contagious during the incubation period before showing symptoms.
Incubation period for dog flu is about 2-4 days from initial exposure, but can remain contagious for up to 10 days after exposure to H3N8 or up to 26 days with H3N2. For dogs with H3N2, it is recommended to isolate dogs for 21 days to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
About ¼ dogs with canine influenza are asymptomatic, but can still spread the disease. Please talk to your vet about how to effectively isolate your pet to reduce the spread.
Symptoms of the Dog Flu
The cases of dog flu can range from mild to severe and are not seasonal. This means dogs can contract canine influenza at any point in the year. Here are the symptoms to look out for:
- Coughing (moist and dry)
- Nasal discharge
- Purulent nasal discharge (with pus)
- Runny eyes
- Difficulty breathing
These are also common symptoms of kennel cough syndrome, which should also be discussed with a veterinarian as soon as you notice symptoms.
In the most severe cases, dogs can develop pneumonia, difficulty breathing, and a high fever from canine influenza. Thankfully, less than 10% of dog flu cases result in fatalities.
Dog Flu Treatment
The Dog Flu requires the professional opinion of a veterinarian, who may be obligated to report cases to the government to monitor the spread of the virus.
Although there is no cure for the virus, you can support and keep your dog comfortable during the duration of infection. Some dogs may require fluids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce fevers or antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections as well as a nutritional plan to recover.
Your dog may need to be isolated to prevent the virus from spreading to other dogs in your house or community, depending on the strain your dog contracted. Disinfectant solutions may be recommended to sanitize your household.
It is best to let your veterinarian office know ahead of time if you suspect your dog may have a respiratory illness to prevent spread within the waiting room.
Preventing Dog Flu
During the event of an outbreak, it is best to avoid public places or kennels where there were recently reported cases. Sanitize your hands, arms, and change your clothes before touching your own dog if you suspect you have come in contact with an infected canine to reduce transmission to your dog.
Consider getting a vaccine for both strains of canine influenza if you live in an area with high incidence of the dog flu, or if your dog is regularly in kennels or around other dogs.