You can’t catch the flu from your dog, but you might be able to recognize it; the flu in dogs is very similar to the flu in people. Signs in Fido, which can last 10-30 days, can range from a mild cough to pneumonia, and can include coughing, sneezing, fever, nasal discharge, eye discharge, difficult breathing, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Similarly to human influenza, the dog flu usually clears up on its own, but can also be fatal, especially in dogs with compromised immune systems.
Signs of canine influenza. If your dog(s) has any of the signs of canine influenza, seek veterinary care immediately and separate the pet from all other pets to avoid transmission. Photo credit: dogflu.com.
Treating canine flu is also similar to how we treat people with the flu: rest, fluids, and cough medicine prescribed by your veterinarian. (Note: do not give over-the-counter drugs designed for people to your dog, as it can be fatal.)
Vaccination against the strains commonly associated with canine influenza (H2N2 and H3N8) is also an option to consider. The vaccine is a killed vaccine, so dogs should not display clinical signs after vaccination. Full protection is achieved at 2 weeks post vaccination series.
Dr. Melissa Shapiro, owner of Westport-based Visiting Vet Service (visitingvetservice.com) and the Connecticut Representative for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, offers the following advice for dealing with canine flu: “My main advice is that pet parents learn the basic facts about symptoms and transmission of the canine influenza virus. They should adjust their dog’s lifestyle regarding visiting parks and kennels as the virus is reported in their community. They should discuss their own dog’s individual risks for contracting the flu with their veterinarian in order to decide whether or not the flu vaccine is indicated.”
Prevention is key to limiting spread of canine flu. Dog parks, doggie daycares, and boarding facilities are places where the flu can spread easily, so if your dog is having symptoms, keep him away from other dogs until he is well. Dog flu is spread by direct contact or by respiratory secretions left behind from a cough or sneeze in any area frequented by dogs such as glass doors (nose prints), elevators, contaminated objects, even humans petting an infected dog and then their own dog. The virus is hardy and can live up to 48 hours on hard, dry surfaces. The incubation period is 2 to 4 days after exposure, and dogs are most contagious before they start showing any symptoms. The good news is that the virus is easily killed with hand washing and disinfectants, so excellent hygiene can help to control the spread.
When you bring in Fido to inquire about his flu shot, please consider asking your veterinarian to join the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), the veterinary affiliate of the HSUS that is involved with animal welfare advocacy. The HSVMA has been helpful with passing sensible legislation to protect pets in Connecticut. Learn more at www.hsvma.org.