Flu season is coming, and that means flu shots for the whole family – including your four-legged family members. Canine influenza, or “dog flu” was discovered in 2004, and like all respiratory viruses, can be easily transmitted within a species, but canine flu poses no risk to humans. Scientists have identified two common strands of canine influenza, and although viruses can mutate, the canine flu vaccination protects your dog from these two specific strands.1 Of course, you should consult with your veterinarian to determine whether your pet needs a flu shot. While the dog flu vaccination cannot completely prevent an infection, the vaccination can greatly reduce the risk of infection, and is believed to reduce the severity and duration of canine flu if infected.1
How contagious is dog flu?
Since canine influenza is transmitted by droplets or aerosols in the air through coughing, sneezing and barking, dogs are at risk if they come in close contact with infected dogs, particularly in kennels, doggy day care, shelters or the groomers. In addition, dog flu can be spread through objects such as food and water bowls, collars, leashes, toys, and even indirectly through people who have come in contact with a contagious dog. The virus can stay alive on surfaces for up to 48 hours, and on hands for 12 hours, so it is important to wash your hands, and any objects that may have come in contact with your infected dog.1
While the virus is contagious, the vast majority of dogs will never be exposed to canine influenza. In other words, dog flu is not widespread. However, the vast majority of dogs exposed to canine flu will become infected.1 Also, there has been a steady increase in reported cases in the U.S., and there are cases of the the dog flu jumping species and infecting cats. No humans have ever been infected by canine influenza.
One significant difference between dog flu and human flu is that technically there is no “flu season” for canines since infections occur year-round. In some ways, dog flu is similar to “kennel cough” which is caused by either a bacterial or viral infection and may infect dogs any time of year.1 Of course, not every dog will necessarily benefit from a dog flu shot, but dogs that have frequent contact with other dogs would probably benefit the most from the vaccination. Consult with your veterinarian to decide what is best for your dog.
What are the symptoms of dog flu?
For the most part, dogs with canine influenza will have symptoms similar to humans with the flu:
- runny nose
- loss of appetite
Fortunately, most dogs will be asymptomatic and show no symptoms at all. These dogs, however, are contagious and can spread the canine flu to other dogs. In serious cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), dog flu can result in pneumonia, and in rare cases, result in death.2
If you think your dog has canine flu, you should seek medical attention immediately. Because symptoms of canine flu are similar to the common cold or other respiratory illnesses, your veterinarian will need to administer a test to properly diagnose canine flu. More importantly, tests will identify which strand of canine flu is present and what treatment is necessary. While you are waiting for test results, you should isolate your dog from other dogs and cats just to be safe.
How do you treat the dog flu?
If your dog is diagnosed with canine flu by a veterinarian, the treatment options will vary depending on factors including symptoms, your dog’s overall health, age and any pre-existing or risk of respiratory illness. For the most part, treatment consists of easing symptoms. Most dogs will recover within two to three weeks, but there is always the risk of secondary infections which may require additional diagnosis and treatment.
Depending on your dog’s symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe medication or administer fluids to prevent dehydration. In addition, infected dogs should be isolated from other dogs and cats for at least four weeks. Also, if you suspect canine flu, bring your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible, and don’t forget to tell them you suspect canine flu so they can take proper precautions to avoid infecting other patients.
The approaching human flu season is a good reminder to discuss the canine flu with your pet health care professional. Also, if your dog is in frequent contact with other dogs, particularly in environments that increase the risk of infection, you should identify a care plan for your dog to reduce the risk of canine flu as well as any highly contagious disease. Fortunately, your Pets Best insurance plan may provide preventative treatment including the dog flu vaccination. The key to ensure your dog’s good health is to identify risks and take the necessary steps to keep your dog healthy and happy.
1 American Veterinary Medical Association (2020). Canine Influenza. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/canine-influenza
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Key Facts about Canine Influenza (Dog Flu). Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/canine-influenza