Many of you have already heard that there is an epidemic of canine influenza (flu) occurring in the Midwest. Researchers have found that this most recent outbreak is due a strain of flu not previously seen here in the US. So what does this mean to you as a responsible and educated pet parent? Here are some FAQs to help you understand this disease and what you can do to protect your dog.
1. What is the dog flu?
Like in people, flu in dogs is caused by a virus, in this case the canine influenza virus. The virus is highly contagious and is spread from infected dogs through direct contact or exposure to nasal secretions from coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread to healthy dogs via exposure to contaminated objects such as toys, bowls, or leashes.
2. Can I get the flu from my dog?
No. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that you can contract this illness from your dog.
3. What are the signs of flu in dogs?
The first signs of illness can be a cough, poor appetite, or lethargy. You may also notice that your dog has a runny nose or discharge from their eyes. Dogs with mild forms of the disease can recover on their own in 2 to 3 weeks; however, dogs with severe infections may develop a secondary pneumonia and breathing difficulty.
4. What should I do if my dog is showing any of these signs?
If your dog starts to show any signs of a problem—lethargy, cough, runny nose, labored breathing—call your family veterinarian right away. The sooner that a diagnosis is made, the better chance that your vet will be able to manage the illness before it gets worse. There is no good way to treat the virus, but your veterinarian can manage the symptoms so that your pet doesn’t get worse.
5. What can I do to protect my dog from the flu?
There is a canine influenza vaccine currently available. If your dog is going to board at a hospital or boarding facility, has a lot of exposure to other dogs (e.g., dog parks, dog shows), or will be traveling to an area where there is an active outbreak, talk to your veterinarian about getting the vaccine. While the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that your dog won’t get the flu (just like the flu vaccine in people), it will lessen the severity of their signs if they contract the infection. The vaccine requires 2 injections 2 weeks apart so be sure to plan accordingly.