People suffering from the flu often worry that their dog may also become sick. While some diseases can jump from species to species, many cannot, because they must undergo mutations to create new strains that can infect other species. Let’s find out if you need to worry about becoming sick if your dog has the flu, or vice versa. 

#1: What is canine influenza?

Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory infection affecting dogs and cats that is caused by an influenza A virus, similar to the viral strains that cause influenza in people. Two canine influenza virus strains have been identified in the United States—H3N8 and H3N2. Influenza viruses can quickly change and give rise to new strains that can infect different species—these two canine strains originally infected horses and birds.   

#2: Is canine influenza similar to the human flu?

Unlike the human flu, canine influenza is not seasonal, and an outbreak can occur any time of year. People are more likely to get the flu or a cold during the winter months, when they are indoors and have more close contact with other people, and the dry air helps circulate viruses more easily. Canine influenza is caused by a different virus than human influenza, but the illness signs are similar. While the human flu is constantly evolving, requiring production of a novel vaccine each year, the canine flu is more stable, and composing a new vaccine annually is unnecessary.

#3: Can my other pets, or I, get the flu from my dog?

While your cat or other dogs can become infected with canine influenza, no evidence has been found of either strain infecting people. 

#4: What canine-influenza signs should I watch for in my dog?

After being exposed to the virus, your dog will typically begin showing canine-influenza signs in two to four days. Most dogs develop a mild infection with a cough that lasts one to three weeks, but some will progress to a more severe infection, with a high fever, pneumonia, increased respiratory rate and effort, and a secondary bacterial infection. If your dog has been exposed to the influenza virus, she may show the following signs:

  • A soft, moist cough, or a dry, harsh cough followed by gagging
  • Ocular and nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Fever

Although most dogs affected by canine influenza recover, deaths have been reported from the H3N2 strain.

#5: How can my dog get canine influenza?

Canine influenza outbreaks are most common where dogs come in close contact, such as grooming and boarding facilities, dog parks, and shelters. The virus is spread through respiratory secretions when an infected dog coughs, sneezes, or barks near another dog, a person, or an object, such as bowls, leashes, or bedding, that your dog may contact. 

#6: How can I protect my dog from canine influenza?

You can protect your dog from a canine influenza infection in a variety of ways that include:

  • Vaccinating your dog annually for canine influenza
  • Avoiding boarding facilities, dog parks, and grooming salons when there is a known canine influenza outbreak
  • Washing your hands after contact with another dog
  • Changing your clothes after contacting a sick dog
  • Avoiding interaction with dogs who appear sick

Keep in mind that dogs infected with the canine influenza virus may not show signs, but they can still infect your dog, so always follow good hygiene practices, and ensure your pooch is current on necessary vaccinations.

#7: What other upper respiratory diseases can sicken my dog?

Bordetella, or kennel cough, is another common upper respiratory disease that may affect your dog. While kennel cough signs appear similar to canine influenza, the two diseases differ in that kennel cough is a bacterial infection, while canine influenza begins as a viral infection that may develop a secondary bacterial infection. Kennel cough treatment may include antimicrobial therapy, while canine influenza will not benefit from antibiotics, unless a secondary bacterial infection develops. 

#8: Do I need to worry about canine influenza in my dog?

In most instances, dogs infected with canine influenza recover in two to three weeks with proper supportive care, such as adequate fluid intake, good nutrition, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories to reduce fever, with cases with secondary bacterial infections also requiring antibiotics. By taking appropriate hygiene measures and vaccinating your dog if she has an exposure risk, she is likely to avoid infection during a canine influenza outbreak. 

At the first hint of a cough or decrease in appetite, call us to schedule an appointment. If left untreated, your pooch’s cough can progress to potentially life-threatening pneumonia.