How Contagious Is the Dog Flu, and Should This Be Concerning Pet Owners? Here’s What You Need To Know

Know what to look for and how to treat the virus.

The flu season has been bad this year—and not just for people. Dog flu cases are on the rise in many areas of the US this winter. In fact, veterinarians are suggesting that pet owners get their dogs vaccinated as soon as possible to potentially prevent this canine influenza. It is also advised that if you begin to notice symptoms in your dog like lethargy or coughing bring them in for a check-up. Although there are several reasons that your dog may develop a cough, it could also be one of the symptoms of the flu and is worth checking out.

Nobody wants to see their beloved pet suffering from a virus. However, there are things that you can do to both prevent and treat this illness to get through the season with minimal distress. Knowing what dog flu symptoms to look for and how to help your dog in the event of being sick will go a long way in keeping your best friend comfortable.

Here is everything you need to know about the dog flu and how to care for your pet.

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What Is the Dog Flu?

Dog flu, or canine influenza, is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs that is caused by Type A influenza viruses specific to dogs. It’s not the same viruses that infect people. According to the CDC, there are actually two strains of viruses that are affecting our furry friends—one is H3N8 and the other is H3N2. Dog flu can happen any time of the year and doesn’t have a specific season like human flu. However, cases are surging this winter.

What Are the Symptoms of the Dog Flu?

The symptoms of canine influenza are cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and reduced appetite. However, some dogs won’t show any signs or symptoms. The range of severity goes from no signs to severe illness that leads to either pneumonia or even death. If you are unsure if your dog has the flu or not, there are tests that can be done with a veterinarian to find out for sure.

Where Is Dog Flu Rising the Most?

Currently, the states seeing the highest number of outbreaks are Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Northern Texas.

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Can the Dog Flu Virus Infect People?

The virus for dog flu is not the same as what is spread among people. Therefore, dogs can’t spread the flu to people and people can’t spread the flu to dogs. This is different from the COVID virus, according to the Mayo Clinic, which can be spread between humans and animals.

How Is the Dog Flu Spread?

The most common way that a dog will come down with the flu is when they have a stay in a kennel or shelter. Canine flu is spread easily among dogs housed together. Coughing and sneezing are the main way that the infection gets passed through the respiratory droplets that are produced. Dogs will either breathe these droplets in or come in contact with contaminated surfaces such as food and water bowls or toys. It’s best if owners keep their dogs home if they notice any flu-like symptoms.

Where Did the Dog Flu Virus Come From?

It’s interesting that the canine flu virus actually originated in horses. According to the National Library of Medicine, it was the equine influenza virus, A(H3N8), that made a direct transfer to dogs in the early 2000s. Scientists say that influenza A viruses can jump between species and mutate to the point that the virus is now considered specific for a dog.

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How Serious Is the Canine Influenza for Dogs?

The percentage of dogs infected with this disease that died is very small. However, since the dog flu is currently spreading rapidly, there is more of a chance of your dog getting the flu which could potentially lead to something more serious like pneumonia.

Is There a Vaccine for Dog Flu?

There are vaccines available to protect dogs against both H3N8 and H3N2 viruses and veterinarians do recommend getting your dog vaccinated to help prevent the spread if it comes into contact with other dogs. It is a two-shot vaccine with a second dose needed two to four weeks after the first. Like the human vaccine, it will also need to be renewed every year.

The vaccine doesn’t guarantee that your dog won’t get the flu but it will help with the severity of symptoms if he does catch it.

How Do You Treat Dog Flu?

According to the AMVA, veterinary expertise is required to determine treatment options and the best course of treatment. Good nutrition, plenty of water and rest will work to help a dog’s immune response and quicker recovery. Most dogs will recover from the flu within two to three weeks.

However, if a dog ends up getting a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, other treatment options may be necessary. These would include plenty of NSAIDs to reduce fever and antibiotics to fight infections.

It’s also important to note that antiviral drugs to treat influenza are approved for use in humans only. There is not much known about their use, effectiveness and safety in dogs.

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