If You’re A Dog Owner, Be Aware Of These Signs Of Flu In Your Pet
Vets across the country have recently reported cases of canine influenza, a highly contagious respiratory infection that spreads among our four-legged friends. The outbreaks, which picked up steam in southern states like Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma in late 2022, are now spreading rapidly to the Northeast and beyond.
Most dogs who contract the infection will end up with mild flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, runny eyes or nose, and fatigue, and they will recover within two weeks. However, a small percentage may develop serious complications, including high fever or pneumonia.
Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian based in Canada’s Ontario province and a veterinary medical advisor for pet care platform Rover, said she is seeing more and more dogs coming into her practice with signs of respiratory infections. “We’re definitely seeing more cases, in clusters, of respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy young dogs,” she said.
Although a canine influenza vaccine is available, most veterinarians do not routinely vaccinate against canine influenza since it has not historically been much of a problem. But amid the recent surge in cases, many vets are encouraging pet parents to vaccinate their dogs — especially if they board their dogs or take them to the dog park. “It’s now becoming enough of a problem that we’re reevaluating our vaccine protocols to increase protection for our canine patients,” Greenstein said.
What exactly is dog flu?
Dog flu is a highly contagious respiratory infection that spreads primarily through the large respiratory droplets that dogs exhale when they cough, bark, and sneeze. (Sound familiar?) The virus can also spread through contaminated surfaces, such as water bowls and places where dogs congregate (think groomers or dog day care), Greenstein said. Dogs can also spread it by rubbing their noses together.
Because canine influenza is considered an emerging disease and there is little immunity in the canine population, most dogs that are exposed will become infected. Up to a quarter of infected dogs will remain asymptomatic, and the rest – about 80% – will develop a mix of flu-like symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, fever and malaise. .
Symptoms will be mild in most dogs, Greenstein said, although a small number will develop pneumonia and may experience a severe cough, intense fatigue, upset stomach or difficulty breathing. Less than 10% of dogs who contract the flu will die from it. Like humans, the types of dogs most at risk for serious outcomes include those who are young, elderly or pregnant, and those who have underlying health conditions that weaken their immune systems.
It usually takes two to four days for dogs to show symptoms after being exposed to the virus. “During their incubation period, infected dogs may appear clinically normal, but they can spread the infection to other dogs,” Greenstein said.
While you’ll want to quarantine your dogs from other puppies, you don’t need to social distance from your pet, as there’s no evidence that dogs can spread canine flu to their humans.
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A veterinarian can assess whether your dog needs the canine flu vaccine as a preventative measure or requires treatment for the current illness.
What is causing the current outbreaks?
Two types of flu have caused epidemic outbreaks among dogs across the U.S. in recent years: H3N2 and H3N8, both of which originated in other animal species before mutating and spreading to canines. H3N8 jumped from horses to dogs around 2004, and H3N2 – which is causing the current surge in cases – likely jumped from birds to dogs, first causing outbreaks domestically in 2015 and 2016.
According to Edward Dubovi, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, dog flu first reached the US via dogs imported from Asia, where there was ongoing transmission.
Since then, outbreaks of dog flu have occurred on an annual basis. “We have this constant threat of importing infected dogs into the United States,” Dubovi said.
Los Angeles was hit with a pretty bad outbreak in 2022, and this year dog flu has spread to parts of the South and Northeast. When dogs travel – whether for vacation with their owners, for adoption or for show purposes – the flu spreads.
“This virus travels across the U.S. in the movement of sick dogs,” Dubovi said. Some vets believe that the resurgence of dog flu can also be attributed to people traveling and traveling back to offices after two years of the pandemic (and, therefore, placing their dogs in day care and boarding facilities).
Here’s how to prevent and treat dog flu
Canine influenza targets both H3N8 and H3N2 strains. According to Dubovi, it’s a standard, cold vaccine that won’t stop the infection, but will help prevent hospitalization and death. We don’t know exactly how effective the injection is, but past research suggests it does a great job of preventing serious illness and reducing viral shedding.
“You may see some mild respiratory signs in your dog, but it shouldn’t progress to severe pneumonia and probably won’t progress to the point where you need to take your dog to the vet,” Dubovi said.
We do not have an antiviral for dog flu, so if your dog tests positive, it will be treated like any other respiratory infection. Your vet will likely recommend rest and fluids and prescribe anti-inflammatory medication if a fever develops.
Your dog may be given antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. Dogs that become seriously ill and develop pneumonia may need an IV and supplemental oxygen, according to Greenstein.
If you think your dog has the flu, talk to your vet. They will know how common dog flu is in your area and can swab your dog to check for flu and other respiratory infections. Most dogs will do just fine, but because things can go south for some little ones, it’s worth evaluating them.
“If you’re not sure about your dog’s condition, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and ask your family veterinarian,” Greenstein said.