Yes, dogs can get the flu, referred to as a “canine influenza virus.” It is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a specific Type A influenza virus H3N8, originally an equine (horse) influenza virus, not a human influenza virus, and has been around for more than 40 years and is now able to spread between dogs. However, as was reported by a recent case in Westchester, New York, even a strain that was first thought to not be contagious to our pets as was the case with the strain of H1N1, other pets, including cats and ferrets, have caught the strain from humans, veterinarians say.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is rare for pets to spread flu viruses, and people should not be afraid to enjoy their animals. Similar to the human form, canine flu is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs which is thought to be a mainly airborne virus, most likely transmitted by an infected dog coughing or sneezing on another. Canine flu is most often associated with dogs housed in a high-density population, such as a boarding kennel.
Canine flu can be transmitted via direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs, contact with contaminated objects, and by people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. From time of exposure to symptoms is estimated to be 2 -5 days.
In otherwise healthy dogs, statistics show that the canine flu is a fairly mild disease for about 80 percent of dogs, with most dogs recovering completely in two to three weeks. However, a small proportion of dogs can develop severe disease characterized by the onset of pneumonia. So, what are the symptoms you should watch for in your dog?
- Persistent, moist cough including sneezing and/or difficulty in breathing
- Low-grade fever 103F or as high as 106F.
- Healthy pinkish gums indicate proper blood flow and adequate oxygen. Any other gum color may indicate a fever or other problems.
- Check dog’s eyes. If they are cloudy and your dog doesn’t have eye problems normally, your pet may be feeling sick.
- Nasal discharge.
- If secondary bacterial pneumonia develops, signs of illness may include loss of appetite, fever or depression.
How can you help avoid exposure for your dog? Here are some tips for prevention and avoiding exposure:
- Watch for news of canine influenza outbreaks in your area.
- Use dog parks, grooming facilities, and kennels that you know well — contact them in advance to a visit if there is an outbreak in your area to inquire about any recent occurrences of respiratory illnesses in dogs under their care.
- Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease.
- Avoid contact with other dogs displaying any of the symptoms above, especially coughing/sneezing.
- If your dog is exhibiting symptoms, contact your veterinarian — he or she is best qualified and equipped to make a diagnosis.
Treatment largely consists of supportive care in an effort to boost immune response.
Your veterinarian may suggest medication to make your pet more comfortable, along with fluids to ensure that your dog remains well-hydrated. It’s important that your dog continues to eat regularly and drink lots of water; if little desire is shown to do one or the other, add some water or broth to food and mix the food up to give a bit of added incentive to eat and drink. Broad spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected. Should antibiotics be necessary, you need to strongly consider more than ever the addition of probiotics to protect your pet with enzyme level support to counter damage to the immune and digestive system caused by destruction to the natural beneficial bacteria of the gut. (Check out our web page on Probiotics For Dogs.)
Because canine flu is new to dogs, most dogs won’t have a natural immunity, so their best defense against the flu is a healthy immune system. >>CLICK HERE<< for some great products that offer the immune support your dog needs.