Canine Flu: When Dogs “A–Choo!”

Just when you are throwing out the cough syrup and putting tissues back in the cabinet, there's a new flu for which to be alert. However, this one won't affect you. The canine flu recently arrived in this country and has been making dogs miserable from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. While most dogs will weather this new illness without complications, it's important to recognize its symptoms in your furry friend and seek veterinarian services if he/she becomes sick.

What is dog flu?

Canine flu is caused by the H3N8 and H3N2 viruses. H3N8, known to flare in the horse population for about 40 years, arrived in the United States in 2004. H3N2 is a recent arrival from Asia (probably carried here by a group of Korean dogs who were rescued and relocated) and is the current cause of alarm. It had its origin in birds, but is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can jump from one species to another. To this point, no human cases of either dog flu viruses have jumped to humans, but that is not unlikely given the precedence of H1N1 (swine flu) and H5N1 (bird flu). This year, H3N2 erupted in Chicago and spread to other midwestern states as well as California, sickening about 1,000 dogs. Although experts are calling it an epidemic, it is not usually a fatal disease, so you do not have to be alarmed.

What are the symptoms of H3N2?

Symptoms of canine flu are similar to what you endured if you had the flu this winter. They include

  • coughing

  • runny nose

  • fever

  • sneezing

  • lethargy

Complications include protracted fever and pneumonia. Death can occur in dogs who are very young, elderly, or compromised by medical conditions.

Because these symptoms are indicative of many canine illnesses, your veterinarian would need to do specific lab work to correctly diagnose canine flu in your dog. This may include nose or throat swabs, but the clearest results are obtained through blood work. The presence of antibodies in your dog's blood will prove exposure to the virus.

How could my dog catch this virus?

Like humans, dogs catch the flu through contact with others. The disease is thought to spread quickly in environments such as shelters, boarding kennels, and dog parks. About 80% of dogs who are exposed to the virus will get the flu, but the mortality rate is less than ten percent.

How is canine flu treated?

If your dog shows signs of the flu, it is important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Although complications are unusual, supportive medical treatment is critical. Your veterinarian will decide how best to help your dog fight the virus. Treatment for the flu may involve

  • good nutrition

  • lots of fluids

  • comfortable surroundings

  • pain relieving medication

If your dog develops a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be necessary.

Most dogs will recover from the flu in two to three weeks. During this time, you should keep your dog at home to prevent spreading the illness to other dogs.

While there is an immunization for the H3N8 strain of canine flu, there is not yet one for H3N2. While it is possible the H3N8 vaccination may help to prevent H3N2, it is unlikely. Scientists are working on a vaccine for H3N2, but until then the best way to protect your dog is to keep away from places where there is a lot of contact with other canines. Avoiding dog parks is probably the best decision you can make. If you have to leave your dog for an extended time, find a neighbor or family member to stay with him/her rather than using a boarding kennel.

If your dog begins to cough and sneeze, make an appointment with a veterinarian at a clinic, such as 1st Pet Veterinary Centers, right away.