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There have been reports of recent pockets of outbreaks of canine influenza virus (dog flu) in various parts of the country. As with human influenza, the dog flu will remain with us. The difference now is that we know what the viruses are that cause two different strains of influenza, and that helps veterinarians diagnose and treat the illness properly. There are now vaccines available for both known strains of canine influenza: H3N8 and the more recent H3N2. In fact, you may be able to obtain one vaccine for both.

Dogs most susceptible to canine influenza are those that frequent communal activities: competitive dog events, dog parks, grooming shops, daycare and boarding facilities. But all dogs can contract the virus from other infected dogs or from vectors (inanimate objects such as dog bowls, clothing, etc.) that have recently been exposed to the virus. People do NOT become infected by dogs infected with influenza, and dogs do not become infected by humans infected with the flu.

Do Dogs Need a Flu Shot?

As recommended, discussion with your veterinarian regarding vaccination for influenza is warranted, especially in the previously mentioned higher-risk groups. Also, owners of boarding and daycare facilities may require vaccination of dogs frequenting their establishments due to the high amount of effort required to properly sanitize and quarantine as well as the possible high economic loss. In general, dogs that participate in events and social activities should be fully vaccinated for core vaccines as well as Bordetella and canine influenza.

Just like humans, it’s best to get your dog a flu shot each year. To be fully vaccinated against influenza, dogs should receive two initial sets of vaccinations followed by a yearly booster.

Can Dogs Die From the Flu?

Though dogs can die of the flu, as in humans, most do not, though many will require veterinary attention. The signs of influenza are usually: lethargy, fever, decrease in appetite, cough, runny eyes/nose, and possible vomiting. Worsening signs are the development of pneumonia.

Minimizing the Risk of Canine Influenza

Here is some additional information about the canine influenza virus and tips for how to minimize the risk and reduce the spread of the disease:

  • Canine influenza virus is a highly contagious disease that is easily spread through:
    • Close proximity to infected dogs.
    • Contact with contaminated items (bowls, leashes, crates, tables, clothing).
    • People moving between infected and uninfected dogs.
  • Almost all dogs that are exposed to the virus will contract it, and about 80% will show symptoms of the illness.
  • Dogs are contagious 3-4 days prior to showing symptoms and 7-10 days after symptoms subside (this may cover a period of several weeks).
  • Dogs may contract and spread the virus without showing symptoms.
  • Most dogs will completely recover with proper treatment, but the disease can be fatal.
  • The most likely victims of canine influenza virus are social dogs: dogs that regularly interact with dogs outside of their own family or frequent places where many dogs gather.
Golden Retriever laying down feeling lethargic.
stonena7 via Getty Images

Symptoms of Canine Influenza

  • Dry, hacking cough (similar to kennel cough but can progress to a moist, congested cough).
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Lethargy.
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes that may become green or thick.
  • Fever (normal temperature is 101-102 degrees).

Preventing Canine Influenza

  • The best prevention is vaccination. There is now a single vaccination to prevent both the H3N2 and H3N8 strains of the virus. The vaccination requires a booster shot two weeks after the initial vaccine. Vaccines take 3-4 weeks to provide immunity.
  • Isolate sick animals and keep them isolated for up to 10 days after symptoms subside.
  • Practice good sanitation. Use a bleach and water mixture to disinfect common areas such as tables, bowls, leashes, crates, etc. Allow items to thoroughly air dry before exposing dogs to them.
  • Wash your hands frequently, ideally between handling different dogs. At the very minimum, hand sanitizer should be used between handling dogs.
  • Use disposable gowns or wipe down clothing and shoes with a bleach solution between dogs or after leaving an area where dogs congregate.

Dog Flu Treatment

  • Treatment of canine influenza virus requires veterinary assistance. If you believe your dog may have canine influenza virus, contact your veterinarian immediately. Untreated, the illness may progress to pneumonia or other, more serious problems.
  • Although most dogs recover from this illness, some otherwise healthy dogs have died from it.
  • Most dogs take 2-3 weeks to recover from the illness.
  • Any dog suspected of having canine influenza virus should be immediately isolated from other dogs and should not attend dog shows, daycare, grooming facilities, dog parks, or other places dogs gather. Dogs are contagious for 7-10 days after they have stopped showing symptoms.
  • Contact your veterinarian to let them know that your dog may be showing symptoms of canine influenza virus. If your dog is going to a veterinary hospital or clinic, call ahead to let them know you have a suspected case of canine influenza virus. They may ask you to follow a specific protocol before entering to minimize the spread of the disease, including waiting in your car until they are ready to examine your dog.
  • Keep sick dogs at home and isolated from other dogs and cats until you are certain the illness has run its course (typically 3-4 weeks).

Dr. Jerry Klein was personally involved in treating hundreds of dogs sickened by the virus during its initial outbreak in Chicago in the spring of 2015.

Related article: Can Dogs Get Colds?
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