What You Need to Know about Dog Flu
If you’ve watched the news or read a newspaper in the last month, you might have heard about canine flu or simply, dog flu. Yes, dogs can get the flu just like we do.
The History of Dog Flu
We know about two strains of the canine influenza virus. The H3N8 strain has been making the rounds for about 10 years. Reports of H3N8 come from 30 states, including Iowa. A vaccine is available and we have been using this successfully for about 5 years. We require this vaccination for all boarding dogs.
We know that dogs vaccinated for H3N8 are partially to fully protected from the H3N8 strain. They may not get the flu at all or if they do, their cases are often mild. They are less likely to pass the flu along to other dogs.
A canine flu outbreak in Chicago sickened over 1000 dogs in April 2015. This outbreak was from the newer H3N2 strain. H3N2 has been reported in several Midwestern states, including Iowa. Currently, there is no vaccine for H3N2. It is too soon to know whether the H3N8 vaccine will protect against the H3N2 strain.
The influenza virus doesn’t change as rapidly in dog populations as it does in humans. With people, millions get the flu each year. More flu cases equals more opportunity for the virus to change.
With dogs, we are only looking at thousands getting the flu. With smaller infected populations, we see less change in the virus. That said, we are at two strains and likely a matter of time before we have more.
Key Facts about Dog Flu
Highly infectious. Up to 80 percent of exposed dogs may end up with canine flu. The remaining dogs that don’t act sick or show symptoms still may spread the virus.
Easily and quickly spread. The flu virus is spread through direct contact and when secretions are airborne (e.g., sniffing, sneezing, or coughing in close proximity.) The virus can live up to 48 hours on surfaces so kennels, grates, even a pet collar or toy could have the virus for another pet to pick up.
Symptoms. Dry hacking cough, sneezing, runny nose, fever, lethargy. These mimic other respiratory illnesses (e.g., Kennel Cough) so unless you test specifically for canine flu, it might not be clear what your dog has on symptoms alone. Testing is now available for both H3N8 and H3N2 if your vet suspects dog flu.
Can I get it? No. People and other companion animals have not been diagnosed with the dog flu virus at this time.
Dog flu can quickly turn into a more serious issue like pneumonia. Supportive care is crucial. We recommend giving fluids (either in the clinic or at home), keeping your dog separate from other pets, preventive antibiotics to keep any secondary infections at bay, and a cough suppressant. And lots of good hand washing!
Again, think about what you do when you get the flu—drink plenty of fluids, stay home, get rest, and take appropriate medicine to relieve your symptoms. And lots of good hand washing!
Dog flu can take 2-3 weeks to clear up. Your dog should NOT be around other dogs during that time. Dogs are most infectious early on and can pass the virus before you see any symptoms.
Things to Think about
Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating for canine flu. It isn’t always appropriate, but it is an important conversation.
Is your dog around other dogs?
- If you board, does the facility require the H3N8 vaccine? The same applies for doggie day care or training facilities.
- Dog parks are a tough call. They are enjoyable for great off-leash exercise, but understand the risks.
- When walking your dog, do you let her meet and greet other dogs? If they sniff each other as dogs do, that could be enough to transmit the virus.
- We are NOT implying you should keep your dog locked up inside 24/7. Just use caution and common sense when exposing your dog to other dogs.
If your dog starts to show symptoms of the flu (lethargy, sneezing, coughing, or hacking), call your vet right away. The sooner you know what is going on, the sooner you can treat (or prevent from spreading).
If you would like more information, here are links to articles from respected and science-backed organizations. As always, please call if you have questions, concerns or want to talk more about this topic!