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Dogs and Flu: What You Need to Know

Experts answer 7 common questions about dog flu.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Until recently, it was thought that dogs didn't get the flu.

But in 2004, researchers looking at unexplained deaths of greyhounds at dog racing tracks discovered a new influenza virus that can infect dogs. Since then, the virus has been found in 30 states and Washington D.C., said Cynda Crawford, an assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida, who first found the flu virus. Now it's another thing dog owners need to be aware of, she said.

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WebMD went to the experts to get answers to some of the biggest questions about dog flu.

1. What are the symptoms of dog flu?

Diagnosing dog flu can be difficult, Crawford said. That's because dog flu symptoms - a low fever, persistent cough, runny nose, and just feeling blah - are the same as some other common respiratory diseases. A test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.

2. Can people catch the flu from their dog, and vice versa?

Although people and dogs can catch influenza viruses, they are susceptible to different strains of the virus, Crawford said.

For that reason, people don't need to worry about catching the flu from their dog, said Rubin Donis, PhD, chief of the molecular virology and vaccines branch at the CDC.

"We're obviously keeping an eye on that, but so far we haven't seen any evidence that people can contract the virus from their pets," Donis said.

But there has been some evidence that dogs might be able to catch the flu from people, Donis said. But there's not enough data on the subject.

3. How serious is dog flu?

If your pet gets the flu, don't panic. The virus isn't highly dangerous, said Edward Dubovi, PhD, director of the virology laboratory at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the person who first isolated the canine influenza virus from a sample sent to him by Crawford.

But just as with people, dog flu can lead to secondary infections that could develop into life-threatening pneumonia. "The secondary bacterial infections are where the real danger lies," Dubovi said. "But most dogs, with the proper veterinary care, aren't impacted severely."

Experts estimate the fatality rate at 1% to 5%. Crawford said the real problem is because dogs haven't been previously exposed to the virus, they have no immunity. So nearly 100% of dogs exposed to dog flu catch it, and 80% will show symptoms within four days, she said.

4. How likely is my dog to catch dog flu?

High-risk areas for catching dog flu include boarding kennels, shelters, doggie daycares, and dog parks. People who attend dog shows also have been on high alert for the virus. Joy Dillon of Nashville, who breeds and shows Chihuahuas, says that people in the dog show circuit are vigilant about keeping sick animals out of shows.

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