There's the bird flu, the swine flu, and the plain old flu. And then there's the dog flu.
Also known as canine influenza, the dog flu is caused by a particular strain of the influenza virus that can be passed very easily between dogs. Luckily, even though it's similar to the flu in humans, it isn't zoonotic, meaning it can't be transmitted from pet to parent. While there have been outbreaks of pure canine influenza virus throughout the world, it has only recently been identified.
For the most part, dog flu infections are mild and dogs are able to recover in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, however, the infection can become severe.
Risks and Symptoms
As you might expect, dog flu symptoms are similar to those caused by human influenza, coughing, runny nose, aches, and fever. Dogs can pick it up from other dogs through direct contact, contaminated bowls or toys, or even by touching you after you've touched an infected dog.
Any dog that is around lots of other dogs is at risk for the dog flu. That means that if your dog visits dog parks, participates in dog shows, or is regularly boarded, he will have a higher risk of infection. Most facilities take special precautions to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as dog flu or kennel cough, but that doesn't mean your dog isn't at risk.
Dogs with canine influenza can show a variety of symptoms. While some infected dogs may not show any symptoms at all, they are still contagious. A small percentage of dogs will have a harder time with the virus and may develop high fevers or even pneumonia.
Signs and symptoms to look for include:
Lack of appetite
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you think your pooch may have canine influenza, call your veterinarian as soon as you can. And don't be insulted: because the dog flu is so contagious, your veterinarian may ask you to leave your dog in the car until the staff has been notified of your arrival, and you may need to bring your dog into the clinic through an alternate door. This is only done to prevent other pets from getting sick.
There's no specific treatment for canine influenza, and like the human flu, it has to run its course, which could take a few weeks. Most dogs with mild symptoms won't need any treatment, though dogs with more severe symptoms may need supportive care through fluids, supplemental feedings, or even antibiotics in the event of a secondary infection such as pneumonia.
How can you keep your dog from contracting canine influenza? Be aware of any outbreaks in your area and react accordingly. If you happen to come in contact with a dog that seems to have a respiratory illness, wash your hands and change your clothes before touching your dog. In addition, keep toys and bowls clean.
When it comes to boarding, make sure to ask the facility staff if they have had any outbreaks of infectious diseases like canine influenza or kennel cough.
If your dog does have the canine influenza virus, it's important to keep him at home, away from other dogs, until he has fully recovered. There's also a vaccine available to control the spread of the virus and minimize it's impact on infected dogs, though it may not completely prevent your dog from getting the dog flu.