Take Care of Fido: Dog Flu On The Rise

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on January 25, 2018
white bulldog

Jan. 25, 2018 -- If you're breathing a sigh of relief that you and yours have stayed healthy during this miserable flu season -- or finally recovered -- not so fast.

Check on Fido.

Canine influenza -- yes, doggie flu -- is upon us.

"Canine flu is currently experiencing intense flare-ups in defined geographic locations," says Amy Glaser, DVM, PhD, director of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell's Animal Health Diagnostic Center, which tracks canine flu.

Canine flu has not been reported in many states yet, although hot spots include northern Kentucky, southern Ohio, and central California, Glaser says. One case has been reported in Michigan.

Dog flu is also not seasonal, meaning your pet could get it anytime. The flare-ups involve the canine influenza strain H3N2, Glaser says, noting it has been found in 46 states since 2015. Another strain known to affect dogs, canine influenza H3N8, is hardly detected anymore, Glaser says.

Still, In the past 45 days, 109 confirmed cases have been reported to Cornell’s animal health center, and California leads the way with 72.There have been more than 2,600 cases since March 2015, with Illinois reporting 965, the most of any state.

Some good news: You apparently can't catch the flu from your dog. ''To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza viruses from dogs to people, and there has not been a single reported case of human infection with a canine influenza virus,” the CDC says.

Recognizing and Treating Dog Flu

Recognizing dog flu isn't easy, even for vets. A cough or a sneeze can often be the first symptoms, but ''a lot of different things can cause a cough or a sneeze," says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, a veterinarian in Laguna Hills, CA. "Most of the time, dogs with canine influenza do just get over it," she says, often with little or no treatment.

Besides coughing and sneezing, dogs may have a discharge from their nose or eyes, fever, and tiredness.

Most dogs recover within 2 to 3 weeks, the CDC says. Some can get secondary bacterial infections, which make the illness more severe and could trigger pneumonia. The CDC doesn't put an exact number on the fatality rate, but it says the percentage of dogs infected with canine influenza that die ''is very small."

If you suspect your dog has the flu, call your vet for advice. A vet can take a blood test or nasal swab to confirm the virus, says Jim Evermann, PhD, a professor of infectious diseases at Washington State University, Pullman.

If your dog has the flu, separate him from other dogs for at least 4 weeks. The virus can be spread by coughing and sneezing or by uninfected dogs coming into contact with contaminated objects. Clean and disinfect bedding and other things that infected dogs were in contact with, the CDC says.

Pet owners should be sure their dogs are well-hydrated. And your vet may prescribe an antibiotic if there is a secondary bacterial infection.

Preventing Dog Flu

A vaccine can protect against both types of dog flu or just one. Prices vary, depending on the type and the region of the country.

The American Veterinary Medical Association does not have an official position or policy on canine influenza vaccine, says Michael San Filippo, a spokesman. "We consider it a 'lifestyle' vaccine, not a core vaccine," he says.

"You should talk with your veterinarian to determine if it is appropriate for your pet," he says.

If your pet is more likely to get the flu, your vet may advise getting the vaccine, says David Clark, DVM, an associate professor of veterinary medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA. Dogs at high risk include those with a lot of exposure to other dogs, such as dogs in shelters, those that go for frequent grooming, or those in doggie day care.

History of Dog Flu

As far back as the '70s and '80s, researchers found that some dogs developed antibodies to flu viruses but had no disease associated with that then, Evermann says.

Then in 2004,  there was an outbreak of H3N8 among greyhounds in Florida, believed to have been passed from horses. Next came Midwestern flare-ups.

Evermann says things that play a role in the flu outbreaks include socializing, such as more dogs going to day care and dog parks. A dog's life today is different than decades ago, he says. "Culturally, things have changed in the past 20 or 25 years."

Show Sources

Amy Glaser, DVM, PhD, director, Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, Animal Health Diagnostic Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Bernadine Cruz, DVM, veterinarian, Laguna Hills, CA.

Michael San Filippo, spokesman, American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL.

David Clark, DVM, associate professor of veterinary medicine, Western University, Pomona, CA.

Jim Evermann, PhD, professor of infectious diseases, Washington State University, Pullman.

CDC: "Key Facts about Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)."

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