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Dog flu — also called canine influenza — is a highly contagious upper respiratory condition caused by an influenza A virus. While it looks similar to human flu, dog flu results from one of two influenza strains: H3N8 and H3N2.
In most cases, canine influenza isn’t serious, but there is a risk of it turning into pneumonia. Fortunately, the fatality rate is low. Canine influenza can still be stressful for dogs and their pet parents, so they need to know what to look for and what to do if they suspect their dog has contracted the illness.
Like the flu viruses that affect humans, dog flu viruses are airborne. When a dog barks, sneezes, or coughs, respiratory secretions escape into the air and are inhaled by nearby dogs. A dog can contract canine influenza through a shared water bowl, collar, toys, or even a human who came into contact with an infected dog.
Dog flu symptoms are similar to those humans exhibit when they have the flu:
Coughing (dry or moist cough)
As the symptoms of canine influenza mimic other upper respiratory infections — including kennel cough — vets can’t diagnose it based on those signs alone. If a pet parent brings their dog to the vet within the first few days of noticing symptoms, a PCR test can provide an accurate diagnosis. After four days, a series of blood tests may be necessary.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for either strain of dog flu. However, a primary vet or online vet can advise pet parents on the best ways to keep the dog comfortable as they recover. Some dogs may require additional supportive care such as IV fluids or anti-inflammatory medications. Antibiotics may also be necessary if the dog develops a secondary bacterial infection.
Dogs of any age, sex, and breed can catch dog flu. However, those that spend a lot of time at a dog daycare, boarding facilities, dog parks, or events are typically at a greater risk.
In most cases, almost all dogs that come into contact with the virus catch it, but not all show symptoms. Asymptomatic dogs can still spread it.
While there isn’t a cure for either strain of dog flu, pet parents can help prevent it. They should avoid taking their dogs to any public place or kennel with any recently reported cases. Pet parents that come into contact with an infected dog should be sure to wash their hands, arms, and clothing thoroughly before petting their own dog.
Pet parents can also reduce their dog’s risk of contracting canine influenza with a simple vaccine. While it isn’t always necessary, a vet may recommend it if the dog will spend time in a boarding facility or daycare setting. Living in an area with high incidence may also warrant getting vaccinated.
In most cases, dog flu isn’t dangerous, but it is preventable. Simple steps like avoiding areas with recent outbreaks and getting their dog vaccinated can help. If a dog contracts it, keeping them isolated will help prevent it from spreading. If a pet parent has any questions or needs advice on how to help their dog recover, they can also consult with a Fuzzy Veterinarian 24/7 through Fuzzy Vet Chat.