Canine influenza, or dog flu, is on the rise across the country. With many communities experiencing significant upticks in cases, pet parents need to familiarize themselves with this highly contagious disease. As your dog’s veterinarian, we are here to help you keep your precious pup healthy and happy. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to protect your dog during illness outbreaks. Here’s what you need to know about canine influenza.
What is Canine Influenza?
Also known as the dog flu, canine influenza is a respiratory disease that typically causes a hacking cough in dogs. Two strains — H3N2 and H3N8 — cause most cases in the United States. These viruses can survive on contaminated surfaces for up to 48 hours, and symptoms often do not present in infected dogs for up to eight days.
Canine influenza most commonly spreads through direct contact with infected dogs and the aerosol spread of respiratory droplets when a dog coughs or sneezes. Because the virus can live on surfaces, the dog flu spreads through contact with contaminated objects, including leashes, collars, food and water dishes, and crates. It can even live on the clothing and skin of people who handle sick dogs.
What Dogs Are at Risk for Canine Influenza?
Both common strains of the canine influenza virus are relatively new to the United States. For this reason, most dogs have not yet developed natural immunity. While puppies and senior dogs are most susceptible to the dog flu, the virus can cause illness in dogs of all ages and breeds. Cats can carry and transmit most strains of the dog flu, too. However, the strains of the flu that cause illness in dogs do not infect humans. The more your dog interacts with other animals or frequents places other dogs visit, the greater their risk of infection. Dogs who visit dog parks, daycare and boarding facilities, etc., are more likely to get canine influenza than those who do not.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of canine influenza are similar to those caused by kennel cough and other respiratory ailments. Because your dog can’t tell you what’s wrong, it’s best to seek veterinary care if they exhibit any of the symptoms below.
The symptoms of dog flu include:
- Lethargy or lack of energy
- Loud, hacking, or “honking” cough
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Runny nose with clear discharge
- Eye discharge that starts as a clear liquid and progresses to a thicker, yellowish-green mucus
When left untreated, dogs with the flu may develop secondary infections, such as pneumonia, and experience additional symptoms.
How Can I Prevent the Spread of Canine Influenza?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), taking certain precautions can help protect your pet and mitigate the spread of canine influenza during an outbreak. Many of the same steps you take to avoid catching the human flu apply to preventing the spread of the dog flu, and they are reasonable precautions to take throughout the year to keep illness at bay.
A few tips for preventing the spread of canine influenza include:
- Wash your hands and clothes, and your dog’s belongings frequently.
- Wash your hands before and after petting animals.
- Watch for local alerts. If there is an outbreak, avoid areas where the disease is most likely to spread (dog parks, etc.).
- Keep your dog away from dogs that are coughing or appear ill.
- Get your dog vaccinated for canine influenza.
Is the Canine Influenza Vaccine Effective?
As veterinarians, we strongly recommend having your dog vaccinated against both strains of dog flu — especially if they spend time around other animals. Some facilities, including boarding facilities and dog daycares, require guests to be current on H3N2 and H3N8 vaccines. Many veterinarians now require the patients to be vaccinated against canine influenza, too.
Having your dog vaccinated against the most common strains of canine flu lowers its risk of getting sick. Like the human flu virus, though, canine flu viruses mutate. As a result, even vaccinated dogs sometimes get the flu. While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, having your dog vaccinated provides the best line of defense against disease.
What Should I Do if I Think My Dog Has Canine Influenza?
Many cases of canine influenza are mild, and infected dogs often recover well. Still, if you have any reason to suspect your dog is sick, schedule an appointment with us right away. This is especially vital if your dog is a puppy or senior or has any underlying respiratory issues. Keep your dog away from other pets — including cats — for four weeks. Avoid dog parks, dog boarding facilities, pet stores, and anywhere else other animals may be present. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your dog or any of their belongings, and wash your dog’s water and food bowls daily. Launder the bedding regularly, too.
Give your pup plenty of TLC while they recover from the virus. If your home is dry, using a humidifier could help ease their cough. Do you love hot, steamy showers? If so, bringing your dog in the bathroom with you while you shower may help, too. As your dog’s vet, we might make additional recommendations for keeping them comfortable as they recover.
No pet parent wants to see their four-legged friend sick. Fortunately, there are several ways to protect your dog from canine influenza. By taking many of the same precautions as you take to keep your human family members healthy during cold and flu season, you can drastically lower your dog’s risk of contracting the virus.
Having your dog vaccinated against the H3N2 and H3N8 viruses is a smart first step in keeping them safe. We are here to help you determine whether these vaccines are suitable for your canine companion and provide guidance on additional steps you can take to protect them.