When your dog suddenly comes down with a respiratory illness and is coughing, sneezing, and generally feeling lousy, they may have the flu. That’s right, our canine companions can develop their own version of the flu and show many of the same signs as humans. Your pooch’s flu case can occur any time of year and cause serious, even fatal, illness, so be on the lookout for an outbreak in your area. Use the following information from our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center to familiarize yourself with this disease.

What is canine influenza?

Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a viral infection that affects dogs and cats. Influenza viruses are capable of quickly mutating and of turning into new strains that can infect different species. Both U.S. canine influenza strains can be traced to strains known to have initially infected other species. At some point, these viruses acquired the ability to infect dogs.

The first confirmed dog flu outbreak of the H3N8 strain occurred in Florida at a greyhound racing track. Since then, another strain has emerged—H3N2—and one or both strains have been seen in almost every state.

How is canine influenza transmitted?

Canine influenza is a highly contagious disease that spreads easily from dog to dog. In addition to direct contact, the dog flu also can be spread by a cough or sneeze, barking, or contact with contaminated objects, like bowls, leashes, and toys. You can carry virus particles on your clothes and hands as well and infect your own dog.

High-risk areas that are prone to dog flu outbreaks include dog parks, doggy day cares, and boarding and grooming facilities. If your dog visits these locations, they need to be protected through routine vaccinations. 

What are canine influenza signs?

Without a proper diagnosis, it can be tough to determine what respiratory illness your dog has developed. However, if your dog is displaying any of the following signs, they may have contracted canine influenza:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Moist or dry cough
  • Eye discharge
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever (103 degrees)
  • Lethargy

In severe canine influenza cases, dogs also can develop pneumonia, as indicated by a high-grade fever (104 to 106 degrees) and increased respiratory rate and effort.

How is canine influenza diagnosed?

All canine respiratory diseases look similar, but they are differentiated by the causative pathogen. Canine influenza is caused by a virus, while bordetella, or kennel cough, is caused by a bacteria, so proper diagnosis is essential for successful treatment. Diagnosis can be done by performing various tests to confirm the underlying cause. 

How is canine influenza treated?

As with most viral diseases, treatment for canine influenza is largely supportive. Excellent care and nutrition may help dogs mount an effective immune response to help fight off infection sooner, but most dogs recover from the dog flu within two to three weeks. Secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, dehydration, or concurrent respiratory diseases may require additional diagnostics and treatments, such as:

  • Antibiotics to combat secondary bacterial infections
  • NSAIDs to reduce fever and airway inflammation
  • Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids to help correct dehydration

While many pet owners request cough suppressants to alleviate their dog’s coughing, cough suppressant medication does not provide much relief. Instead, the coughing typically lasts for 10 to 21 days before it resolves on its own.

How is canine influenza prevented?

Vaccines are available for both canine influenza strains, including a combination vaccine that protects against both strains in one. While vaccination may not prevent an infection, it may reduce the duration and severity of the illness. To help prevent them from contracting a fatal case of dog flu, all dogs who are at risk should be vaccinated. If your dog receives the kennel cough vaccine, they also should receive the influenza vaccine, because the risk groups are similar.

Since the influenza virus can linger in the environment for two days, and for up to 24 hours on hands and clothing, proper hygiene is essential for preventing transmission. Fortunately, the virus is killed easily by many common disinfectants, so scrub your hands and any bowls, leashes, toys, and other items that may come in contact with an infected dog. If your dog develops canine influenza, they should be isolated for four weeks to prevent disease transmission. Although their cough and other clinical signs may resolve within two to three weeks, they still can shed the virus through respiratory droplets.

Canine influenza is a more serious illness than kennel cough, although the signs of both diseases can appear similar in dogs. If you notice a persistent cough in your furry pal, seek treatment immediately. Contact our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team for after-hours care.