Since the discovery of canine influenza in the US, nearly every state has seen cases of the disease with numbers ever increasing. When news of the latest outbreak calls attention to it, fears and questions about dog flu rise anew.
What Is Canine Influenza?
Canine influenza is viral infection that affects the respiratory system and can result in pneumonia. There are two strains of the canine flu: H3N8 and H3N2. The first cases of H3N8 in dogs were discovered in 2004, having been transmitted from horses. The first cases of H3N2 in dogs, first transmitted from birds in Asia, appeared in the United States in 2015.
How Is It Transmitted?
The disease spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected dog barks, coughs, or sneezes. The flu can remain alive on surfaces including clothing, collars and leashes, toys, and human skin from 12-48 hours. Of those exposed, 80% of dogs contract the flu. There is no canine flu season. Outbreaks can happen during any time of year, in any climate.
What Are the Symptoms?
The canine flu can act much like kennel cough though it is completely different. Some dogs with the infection show no signs of illness. Symptoms that appear can range from mild to severe and include lethargy, fever, coughing (wet or dry), sneezing, loss of appetite, and a runny nose with clear or yellow or pink discharge.
If your dog shows any symptoms or if they’ve been near suspected infectious dogs, contact your veterinarian for testing and treatment advice.
Is It Fatal?
For the most part, no. The disease can vary in severity, and dogs with compromised immune systems, that are very young or old, and usually dogs that have the most severe cases can succumb to the flu. Canine flu results in fatalities in less than 10% of those that contract it.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Except in severe cases and in those that develop into pneumonia, there is no treatment beyond comfort care. Rest, hydration, and isolation from other dogs are the norm, although in some severe cases dogs may need intravenous fluids for dehydration or antibiotics for secondary infection. The best treatment is prevention.
What Are the Preventative Measures?
Owners should practice good hygiene when they encounter dogs not their own, particularly if there is an outbreak in the area. Wash your hands and change clothes before handling your own dog.
If your dog spends any time in places where other dogs are present including groomers, kennels, day care, training classes, and dog parks you should consider the flu vaccine along with the Bordetella vaccine. When possible, before taking your dog to facilities such as these, observe levels of cleanliness and make sure they’re reputable establishments. Don’t be shy about asking management about their prevention and containment strategies.
Pay attention to news about outbreaks in your area and seek advice from your veterinarian. If your dog contracts the flu, keep them home for at least a few weeks and clean all of their belongings and living areas once they’re no longer infectious.
Can Humans Contract Canine Influenza?
Because flu viruses change transmission of canine flu to humans is not impossible, but it is unlikely. To date, there have been no reported cases of dog to human transmission of canine influenza. Multiple health agencies, national and worldwide, are constantly monitoring for zoonotic disease.
Canine influenza is no fun for pets or their humans. Best practices include staying up to date about outbreaks and taking precautions. Talk to your veterinarian about risks and vaccination. If your dog exhibits any symptoms, make an appointment right away for diagnosis and treatment and comfort advice.