Outbreaks of canine influenza virus, also known as the “dog flu,” can occur anywhere at any time. As with human influenza, the dog flu stays with them. The difference is that we now know which viruses cause the two different strains of influenza, which 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 depends on what your vet offers.
Dogs most susceptible to canine influenza are those that frequent communal activities: dog parks, dog events, grooming shops, daycare and boarding facilities. Any dogs can contract the virus from other infected dogs or from vectors, which are inanimate objects such as dog bowls, clothing, etc., that have recently been exposed to the virus.
It is important to note that people don’t become infected by dogs infected with influenza, and dogs do not become infected by humans infected with the flu. It’s safe to be around your dog when they have canine influenza, just as they can be around you when you have the flu.
Here are some things to note about the canine influenza vaccine, from the American Kennel Club’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, who was personally involved in treating hundreds of dogs sickened by the virus during its initial outbreak in Chicago in the spring of 2015.
Do Dogs Need a Flu Shot?
Most veterinarians do recommend getting the vaccine for canine influenza, especially for dogs who frequent the groups mentioned above that are higher-risk. Owners of boarding and daycare facilities may require vaccination of dogs frequenting their establishments. 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 the 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, the majority don’t. Cases usually do require veterinary attention, regardless of severity. 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.
Which Dogs Are Most At Risk for Canine Influenza?
Whether your dog is often in social spaces or lives in a single-pet household, it’s important to try to minimize the risk of canine influenza. Since it’s a highly contagious disease, it can easily spread through infected dogs that are in close proximity, contact with contaminated vectors, or people moving between infected and uninfected dogs that can transfer the virus.
Most dogs exposed to the virus will contract it, and about 80% will show symptoms of illness. Dogs can also contract and spread the virus without showing symptoms. The incubation period of canine influenza is approximately 2 to 4 days from initial exposure to the dog, often even before showing symptoms. Viral shedding starts to decrease after the fourth day, but dogs with H3N8 can remain contagious for up to 10 days after exposure, and dogs with H3N2 can remain contagious for up to 26 days.
Most dogs will completely recover with proper treatment, but the disease can be fatal.
Symptoms of Canine Influenza
- Dry, hacking cough (similar to kennel cough but can progress to a moist, congested cough)
- Lack of appetite
- 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.
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, especially 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.
If your dog does get sick, isolate them and keep them isolated for up to 21 days after symptoms subside.
How is Canine Influenza Treated?
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 problem.
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.
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
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). Most dogs take 2-3 weeks to recover from the illness, however, some otherwise healthy dogs have died from it.