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The answer to that question is yes and no. Dogs can get canine influenza, which is also called dog flu, but there’s no evidence that it can be transmitted to people. While you don’t have to worry about catching it from your pooch, you should know the signs so you can get your dog proper care when that coughing and sneezing begins.

Background

There are two different types of dog flu viruses that have been identified in the United States. I’ll share a brief bit about their origins and history. If you’re interested, you can get more details by visiting the website for the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

H3N8: An Adapted Equine Flu Virus

The first recognized outbreak of dog flu occurred at a Florida racetrack where Greyhounds contracted a strain known as H3N8 from horses. Later research showed that this flu was likely circulating among Greyhounds at racetracks since 1999. In 2005, it spread to other racetracks in a number of states across the country.

Although it originated in horses, H3N8 has adapted to dogs and is now considered a dog-specific flu virus. It is also widespread, having been identified in 40 states according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

H3N2: An Adapted Avian Flu Virus

H3N2 was originally an avian flu (one that infected birds), but it has since mutated to sicken dogs. It was initially diagnosed in dogs in Asia in 2007, and first seen in the United States in April 2015. At that time, there was a major outbreak at shelters in Chicago and parts of the Midwest. Some shelters decided to halt the adoption of dogs for a period of time to help control the spread of the disease.

During the Chicago outbreak, a Cornell University study identified the virus as a different strain than H3N8 and warned that it could be transmitted to cats. There is no evidence that it could infect humans. 

Transmission

Dog flu is highly contagious and can spread rapidly at shelters, boarding kennels, doggie day care centers, and other places where dogs are close together, like busy dog parks. It is transmitted by direct contact or through the air, such as when a dog gets barked at, sneezed on, or coughed on by an infected dog. It can also be passed from dog to dog through shared contaminated objects, like food and water bowls.

Dogs with the flu are the most contagious during the first several days after they are infected. Unfortunately, they may not show outward symptoms, which gives the disease the opportunity to spread to other dogs. Dogs can be contagious for seven to 10 days after they show symptoms.

It is interesting to note that dog flu occurs year round. It isn’t seasonal like some human flu viruses. However, cases of dog flu can increase during the fall and spring when the weather is nicer, and dogs are more likely to be outside spending time near one another.

Vaccines

Vaccines for H3N8 are available and can be beneficial to dogs who are at greatest risk of exposure. They are given as an initial vaccine with a follow-up dose three weeks later. It takes about four weeks after the first vaccine is administered before immunity begins. You should talk to your veterinarian if you think a flu vaccine would be helpful for your dog. 

Dog Flu and People

A common question about dog flu is: “Can I get it from my dog?” As I already mentioned, there is no evidence to suggest that either type of dog flu has any effect on people. There are no reported cases of humans getting the flu from their dogs. However, you should know that viruses are always adapting, so this could change in the future. As a best practice, it’s smart to avoid letting a sick dog smother you with wet kisses!

Signs of Dog Flu

The symptoms of dog flu are very much like those you and I get when we have the flu. They include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny Nose
  • Fever
  • Eye Discharge

Your dog might also lose their appetite and be lethargic. These symptoms can be indicative of other health problems, like kennel cough and respiratory illnesses, so it’s best to take your dog to the veterinarian to find out exactly what is going on and how you can help your dog recover.

According to the AVMA, an estimated 20% of dogs who contract the flu virus won’t show any symptoms at all. 

Diagnosis

If you suspect your dog has the flu, your veterinarian will go over their medical history and ask you questions, such as recent eating habits and whether or not they were around potentially infected dogs. They will also perform a complete physical looking for signs of dog flu, such as congestion or fever.

There are two tests available for dog flu. If your dog has only been sick for a few days, your veterinarian may perform a culture by swabbing the nose or throat. The other option is a blood test to check for flu antibodies, which would have built up in the bloodstream to help fight off the virus. Blood tests are only accurate after your dog has been sick for a while, so your veterinarian may decide to start treatment based on their assessment of the situation rather than waiting for results.

Treatment

Keep in mind that dog flu is a viral infection, so it doesn’t respond to antibiotics. Treatment is usually focused on relieving the symptoms and preventing complications until the virus runs its course. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to reduce fever and alleviate coughing or congestion.

However, antibiotics may be prescribed if your dog shows signs of a secondary infection. More severely affected dogs may need advanced care, such as IV fluid therapy or hospitalization. These kinds of treatments can be covered by an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan

Tips to Care for a Dog with the Flu

Dog flu itself is not usually life threatening and will typically run its course in about a week. However, it can lead to complications like dehydration or pneumonia without proper care. These tips can help you make your ailing dog more comfortable and avoid getting other pets in the house sick:

  • Keep your dog warm and encourage them to drink lots of water to help stay hydrated.
  • If you have more than one dog, isolate the infected pooch in a safe and cozy room.
  • Give them a comfortable pet bed, blanket, and be sure to have plenty of fresh water on hand.
  • Wash your hands carefully after attending to your sick dog so you don’t pass the virus to other pets.
  • Consider wearing gloves and putting a spare shirt on over your clothing to help prevent spreading the infection.
  • Do not allow your dogs to share food or water bowls, or grooming tools.

You don’t have to worry about scrubbing and disinfecting the entire house. The flu virus doesn’t survive more than 48 hours in the environment.

While you can’t absolutely prevent dog flu, you can get reimbursed for the costs of covered veterinary care, such as diagnostic tests and prescription medications with an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan

Prevention

The only certain way to prevent your dog from contracting the flu is to keep them away from infected dogs. However, this isn’t always possible and can keep your dog from enjoying fun activities like romps at the dog park.

While you can’t absolutely prevent dog flu, you can get reimbursed for the costs of covered veterinary care, such as diagnostic tests and prescription medications with an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Get a quote for your dog now.


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