Dogs playing in dog park
At this time of year, everyone, it seems, worries about the flu. But did you know your dog could get it, too? While different from the human flu, canine influenza is caused by a contagious virus identified in several locations in the U.S. Two different strains of the virus have been identified, H3N8 and H3N2. Currently, there is no evidence that people can contract this virus from their pets.

How Could Your Dog Get It?

Canine influenza is transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog or by contact with contaminated surfaces, leashes, muzzles, food and water bowls or other equipment. Infected dogs that cough, bark or sneeze can aerosolize the virus (meaning particles disperse into the air), so other dogs may inhale it when they breathe.

So if your dog goes to dog parks, dog shows, doggy day care, grooming or boarding facilities where he comes into contact with other dogs, there’s a chance he could be exposed to the virus.

It Often Starts With a Cough

The majority of patients typically exhibit respiratory signs that are similar to those seen with kennel cough, such as a persistent cough, loss of appetite and nasal discharge. Some dogs with canine influenza may show no signs at all. Others may experience signs that range from a mild fever and lethargy to difficulty breathing, as seen in severe, life-threatening pneumonia.

Yes, Cats Can Get It Too

The small number of cats that have been diagnosed with canine influenza virus (H3N2) in the U.S. experienced a runny nose, congestion, and signs of nausea such as lip smacking and excessive drooling. These cats were in a shelter and may have also been infected with other viruses that can cause upper respiratory signs. Because of their exposure to other animals, cats in shelter situations are generally at a higher risk of contracting influenza than cats in a household environment.

How Is the Disease Diagnosed?

Canine influenza is diagnosed based on a culmination of physical examination findings, clinical signs, history and diagnostic test results. If your veterinarian suspects canine influenza, chest x-rays will most likely be recommended to rule out other respiratory diseases prior to testing for influenza.

Your veterinarian may also swab different regions of your dog’s body such as the nose, back of the mouth, trachea or eye or obtain samples directly from the lungs to submit for testing. Because the virus is only shed for a short period of time, the tests may be negative even though the dog actually has canine influenza.  If your veterinarian is still suspicious of influenza, she may submit additional blood tests. 

How Is the Flu Treated?

Most dogs with canine influenza are treated on an outpatient basis, however, they should be isolated from other animals until they are no longer contagious, which is usually at least 21 days. Treatment may include antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections, fluids to correct dehydration, and other medications. A small percentage of dogs with severe disease require hospitalization and oxygen supplementation. Influenza is fatal in a very small percentage of cases. 

Cats with influenza are treated supportively with antibiotics and potentially other medications to address the upper respiratory signs.

How Can I Help Prevent My Pet from Becoming Infected?

It helps to avoid dog parks, daycares and other facilities where the virus could easily be spread. Limiting or preventing exposure to areas where an outbreak has been reported is a good preventative measure. Ask your veterinarian if there have been any outbreaks in your area.

Vaccines are available for dogs; however, a feline vaccine has yet to be created. In general, these are not considered “core” (i.e. required or strongly recommended for all pets) vaccinations but are recommended for pets that are at higher risk of exposure based on their lifestyles and outbreaks in the area.

Although there are vaccines available for the H3N8 strain and others for the H3N2 strain, vaccines for one strain may not cross protect against the other strain. A vaccine was recently introduced that is designed to help protect against both viral strains. By vaccinating your dog, you may not completely protect him from getting the virus, but the vaccine usually helps reduce illness and the transmission of the virus.

If you are concerned that your dog or cat may be showing signs of the canine influenza virus, please see your veterinarian. When you make the appointment, let them know that you are concerned about influenza so they can take the necessary precautions so other pets aren’t exposed when your pet arrives at the hospital. Even if your pet isn’t showing signs, it’s a good idea to ask if your pet may be at risk.

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