With the cold season in full swing, many pet owners might be asking, “can my dog get the flu”? The short answer? Yes, dogs can get the flu. But there are plenty of things you can do to keep your pup comfortable while they get over their sniffles. Better yet, there’s a lot you can do to keep your dog healthy and prevent them from catching the flu in the first place. Here are the facts:
What is dog flu (canine influenza)?
What we commonly refer to as Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) is actually the combination of two influenza strains that are found in animals. The first strain is known as H3N8 and has it’s orgin in horses, while the second is known as H3N2 and has it’s origin in birds. These two strains have been found to infect other types of animals, with H3N8 being the particularly stronger form of the flu.
It wasn’t until 2004 that evidence of H3N8 was found in dogs. This mutation of the illness became the current form of CIV or “dog flu.” It is highly infectious and easily passed from one dog to another, but healthy pups are likley to recover completely from this flu. Dogs with underlying conditions will have a harder time recovering from the flu, and some may even pass away in severe cases.
As for the H3N2 strain, the earliest indication of this flu wasn’t found in the United States until 2015. This strain is also very contagious among dogs and can be passed from dogs to cats. Much like with H3N8, healthy dogs will typically recover from H3N2 while those at risk for infection may not.
What are the symptoms of dog flu?
It's important that you recognize the symptoms of CIV so you can reduce the severity and extent of your pet's discomfort. The symptoms are not all that different from those we might experience when we get the flu.
The most common symptom is a cough, which can be wet or dry. Since this is a respiratory illness, many pet owners will automatically assume the dog has “kennel cough” or similar diseases. To ensure that it is CIV and not some other infectious canine respiratory illness, it's crucial to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
This cough can last anywhere from 10 to 21 days and unfortunately there isn’t much you can do. The cough will be persistent and cannot be treated by antibiotics or cough suppressants.
Your pet may also exhibit signs of fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, and runny nose. If your dog is older or has pre-existing heart and/or respiratory conditions, the symptoms could be more severe and your dog may be far more susceptible to infection.
Dogs that have the H3N2 strain could be at higher risk of developing more intense and dangerous symptoms. CIV from either strain does run the risk of turning into pneumonia which can threaten the life of your pet.
How is dog flu spread?
While just about every dog is vulnerable to being infected with CIV, dogs that live in close quarters near one another are particularly susceptible to picking up the virus. That means animal shelters and kennels pose the highest risks. Again, dog flu is a lot like the flu that humans pass from one to another. It's a virus that spreads by way of droplets that are expelled from the mouth when a dog coughs or sneezes. The virus is also passed through community contact of contaminated surfaces, so it is extremely important to disinfect all surfaces that have been exposed to dogs that are demonstrating symptoms.
Pet owners who have a sick dog can also pass it to healthy dogs or even cats if the dog has coughed or sneezed on their clothes or skin. The virus can survive for up to 5 minutes on the skin and as long as 24 hours on clothing and other surfaces.
One thing you don’t need to worry about - you can't get sick from your dog. CIV is not passed from dogs to humans, and thave been no cases of dog-to-human infection.
How is dog flu treated?
Treatment options may vary depending on the severity of the case. CIV is a virus that you can only allow to run its course. But while there may not be any cure for CIV, your veterinarian will devise a treatment plan to help your dog recover quickly and safely.
Fluids are a critical component of treating dog flu to prevent dehydration. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) may also be administered to keep fevers low. Antibiotics might be prescribed to help lower the risk of infection and your pet might be put on a restricted diet or special nutritional regimen.
Infection is a major concern and so it's very possible that your dog will need to be put into quarantine to keep from spreading the virus to other pets in the home. Reducing the amount of accessible space for your sick pup will also limit the number of surfaces you need to disinfect. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best place to quarantine your dog and the length of time your pup should be kept away from you and other pets.
Remember, droplets from a sick dog can live on your clothing for 24 hours. If you leave the house with the active virus on your shirt or pants, it can be passed to another dog and the infection continues to spread. Becuase of this, it’s a good idea to call ahead before bringing your pup to the vet. You may be asked to remain outside until all other animals are no longer in the waiting room or your dog might be brought into the office through a separate entrance.Have more concerns about your dogs wellness? Be sure to check out the Two Tails Blog!