With winter coming, humans are susceptible to the flu. Is it the same for dogs? What should a dog owner do?
When it’s flu season and you start feeling that familiar tickle in your throat, it’s natural to wonder whether your dog may get sick as well. Dogs can indeed get the flu, and while human flu and canine flu share many similarities, they’re not quite the same. And to date, there have been no cases of the dog flu transferring to humans.
What Is Canine Flu?
Cases of canine influenza virus, or dog flu, have been reported throughout the U.S. for years. In 2004, the first case of canine influenza H3N8 was reported in Florida, and in 2015, an outbreak of canine influenza H3N2 started in Chicago. Thousands of dogs have been diagnosed with the flu since then.
The symptoms of human flu and canine flu are relatively similar — sneezing, runny nose, and coughing are among the most prevalent indicators, while eye discharge, fatigue, and loss of appetite are also common. Your pup might even run a fever if they’ve come down with the flu.
However it can be very difficult to even realize your dog has the flu as up to 1 in 5 dogs don’t show any symptoms of the illness.
A Year-round Flu Season
While humans generally only get the flu during the fall and winter, dogs can get — and spread — the flu any time of the year.
How Worried Should Dog Owners Be?
Less than 10% of reported dog flu cases are fatal, though it can lead to more severe respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia. Puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with other underlying health issues who catch the flu are particularly susceptible to developing more serious illnesses. Breeds like pugs and French Bulldogs — and other dogs with flat faces — are also more prone to complications from the flu because of the anatomy of their respiratory tracts.
How Canine Flu Spreads
Canine flu spreads just as easily as human flu, and often in similar ways: Coughing, sneezing, barking and orally (if your pup chews on a toy with flu germs on it, they can catch it).
Additionally, if a flu-infected dog sneezes or coughs on you, the virus can live on your skin for up to 2 minutes and on your clothes for over a day, leaving any other dogs you come into contact with later vulnerable. Your pooch can even get the flu from you if you’re infected, though not the other way around. (More on that below.)
Preventing Canine Flu
Unfortunately, because it’s so easily spread and not confined to a certain season, it’s hard to prevent your dog from catching canine flu. There is a vaccine for the illness, but rather than prevent the infection, it may only temper the severity of symptoms. The dog flu vaccine is recommended no matter what, but particularly for more social dogs who spend a lot of time around other pups.
Kennels, dog parks and boarding centers are the most common places pups can catch the flu — think of them as the cramped offices and subways of the dog world — so try not to bring your pooch to places like that more than you need to, especially if you know any of the regulars have the flu. Some kennels and boarding centers are requiring that dogs have the flu vaccine prior to entering their facilities so check with them prior to bringing your dog there.
As mentioned, while humans can’t catch the flu from dogs, you can also spread it to your pup, so if you come down with it, try to give them some space. If you don’t live with someone who can help take care of your pooch while you’re recuperating, enlist a friend or family member until you’re better.
Treating Canine Flu
If you suspect your pup has the flu, take them to the vet to find out what course of treatment needs to be taken. For the most part, nothing but lots of rest and fluids should get your pup back to their healthy old self. However, the vet may prescribe antibiotics if your dog has developed a bacterial infection as a side-effect of the flu, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to help with fever.
Canine flu has an incubation period of about 2-4 days from initial exposure to the virus. Dogs infected with H3N8 will remain contagious for up to 10 days, while dogs with H3N2 will remain contagious for up to 26 days.
Once diagnosed with H3N2, your pooch will have to be isolated for no less than three weeks, and if you have other pets (including cats, who can catch the flu from dogs), wash your hands and change your clothes before interacting with them after you’ve touched a flu-infected dog so as not to pass it along.
Keep their environment as quiet and peaceful as possible — if you have small children or other animals who tend to make a lot of noise, try to create a separate space where your pup can recover, and make sure to give them lots of water.
Again, because it’s so difficult to prevent your pooch from catching the flu, the most helpful thing you can do is make sure you take care of yourself as best you can — that way, if you find yourself with a flu-ridden pup, you’ll be able to take care of them as best you can.