Does My Dog Need a Flu Shot?

Bulldog lying down
Brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs can be affected more severely if they get canine influenza.

Fever, cough, runny nose, muscle aches — this all means one thing: It’s flu season. While you're worrying about your own health, you might find yourself wondering about your dog.

Can he get the flu, too?

The answer is yes, but that doesn't mean you need to panic. Canine influenza outbreaks have been reported in some parts of the country. But how do you know if your dog is at risk? And how can you protect him if he is? Should he have a flu shot? I spoke to some of my veterinary colleagues who have expert knowledge on the subject to find out what you need to know about dogs and the flu.

What Are the Risks of Canine Influenza?

The good news is that dog flu is uncommon. The bad news is that the strains veterinarians are seeing now are a newer infection, so dogs are susceptible, and it can take time for them to recover from it, says Lauren Durocher-Babek, an internal medicine specialist who practices at  Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Hillsborough and Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

“Most dogs recover uneventfully from the flu and don’t need to be hospitalized." But, she adds, "Some dogs, especially those who have weak immune systems, can develop pneumonia and require intensive care."

Dogs at greatest risk are those who spend a lot of time with other dogs. Dog parks, boarding kennels, doggy day care centers, dog groomers and dog shows are among the places where your pooch could be exposed to the canine flu viruses. Dogs are also more likely to pick up the flu if they are already sick or if their immune systems aren’t working at peak efficiency because of their age. For instance, young puppies and older dogs don’t always have fully functioning immune systems.

Some dogs aren’t necessarily at increased risk of developing respiratory infections, but they may be affected more severely if they get sick. These dogs include brachycephalic dogs — those with short muzzles — such as Bulldogs or Pugs, or dogs with small nostrils. They "already have respiratory compromise, because the nose’s openings are so small,” says internal medicine specialist Raelynn Farnsworth, DVM, who teaches at my alma mater, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “They have breathing issues anyway, and if their noses or throats are stuffy or inflamed, it makes it even worse for them.”


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