You’ve heard of flu outbreaks making people sick, but they can happen to dogs, too. Our doggie friends can catch "canine influenza," which not only makes them feel bad, but can be dangerous to them.
If you know the signs, you can help your dog feel better, or maybe keep him from getting sick at all.
What are the symptoms of dog flu?
”Just like when people get the flu, you can expect your dog to sneeze, have a runny nose, and cough,” says Barry N. Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Other symptoms are tiredness and lack of appetite. Some dogs also can have a fever of 104-106 F.
Sometimes, you may not know your dog has the virus. Up to 20% of dogs with the flu don’t show any symptoms.
How serious is it?
Most dogs who get the virus don’t die. But “Canine influenza can cause more serious illness than the average respiratory infection,” says Cynda Crawford, DVM, PhD, of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. In some cases, it can turn into pneumonia. At that point, the disease becomes more dangerous. Puppies and older dogs are more likely to get severely ill once they’re infected.
What are the chances my dog will catch it?
If they're exposed to it, “close to 100%,” Crawford says. “The vast majority of dogs in the U.S. have not been previously infected or vaccinated against dog flu.”
Dog flu is very contagious. Your pup can catch it when an infected dog sneezes or coughs on him. Since the virus also can live on objects, he could get it by putting an infected ball or toy in his mouth. It's possible for people to give their dogs the virus, too. If an infected dog coughs or sneezes on you, the virus can survive on your skin for 2 minutes and for a day or longer on your clothes.
What breeds are most at risk?
All ages and sizes of dogs are equally at risk. But “dogs with ‘smushed-in’ faces like pugs, French bulldogs, and Pekinese may have a tougher time dealing with the flu,” Crawford says. “Because of the anatomy of their respiratory tract, any respiratory illness takes a harder toll on them.”
Can people catch dog flu?
“So far, there have been no reported human cases,” says Amesh Adalja, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and School of Medicine.
But flu viruses are great at adapting themselves to infect other animals, so there’s always a risk people could get it, Adalja says.
How is dog flu treated?
Just like humans, dogs need rest and fluids, Kellogg says. Make sure your pet has a quiet, comfortable place to recover and plenty of water to drink. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics if your dog gets a bacterial infection along with the flu.
If your pet shows any signs that he’s sick, it’s important to keep him away from other dogs. Avoid dog parks, kennels, or any other place where he’ll be around a lot of other dogs, Amesh says. Most dogs get better in 2-3 weeks.
Is there a vaccine?
Yes. If you live in an area where there has been an outbreak of dog flu, or your pet often comes into close contact with other dogs, it might be a good idea for him to get the shot.
“The vaccine doesn’t necessarily prevent the flu, but will decrease its severity,” Kellogg says. “Talk to your veterinarian and see if he or she recommends it.”