Dog Flu Symptoms: What to Watch Out For

There seems to be little risk of dogs getting severely ill from the novel coronavirus, which is excellent news. However, there is a virus going around that dogs are susceptible to: the dog flu, also known as canine influenza. What are the symptoms of dog flu, how contagious is it, and can people get the dog flu? Here’s everything you need to know about canine influenza.

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What Is Dog Flu?

Dog flu, also called canine influenza, is a respiratory disease caused by the influenza A virus, similar to the flu that people get. Dogs are prone to different strains of flu than people are, though. Most dogs experience mild to moderate symptoms, and some dogs experience no symptoms, but as many as 1 in 10 dogs may die from canine influenza.

What Causes Dog Flu?

Two strains of the influenza virus cause dog flu.

  • H3N8 is a strain of dog flu that originated in horses but jumped to dogs in 2004. The first outbreaks affected racing Greyhounds in Florida.
  • H3N2 originated in birds but has been affecting dogs since 2015. This is the more common strain in most places.

How Is Dog Flu Spread?

The dog flu is spread through respiratory droplets released when an infected dog barks, sneezes, or coughs, and another dog inhales those droplets, which contain the virus. Those respiratory droplets can also contaminate surfaces that other dogs come in contact with, such as water bowls or kennel surfaces, and another dog could pick up the virus from that contaminated surface.

Doggie daycares, dog parks, grooming salons, and pet boarding facilities are the most common places for a dog to pick up canine influenza.

How Long Are Dogs Infected with Canine Influenza Contagious?

Dogs usually start to show symptoms about two to four days after being exposed to the virus. However, about one-quarter of all dogs that get the virus will never show symptoms. They can still be contagious, however.

Dogs with H3N8 are contagious for up to 10 days after exposure. Meanwhile, dogs with H3N2 stay contagious for up to 26 days.

Even if your dog only has minor symptoms, if you suspect your dog may have the dog flu, you should take them to the vet to get testing. If your dog has the H3N2 variety, you don’t want to put other dogs at risk, so it’s essential to know for how long you should keep your dog away from other dogs.

What Dogs Are at Risk of the Canine Influenza?

Dogs at the highest risk of canine influenza are ones who spend a lot of time around other dogs at places like doggie daycare, dog parks, or boarding facilities. If your dog rarely has contact with other dogs, they are less likely to catch the dog flu.

Dog Flu Symptoms

Dog flu symptoms resemble those for other illnesses, such as kennel cough, typically last one to three weeks, and may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Reduced appetite

Treating Dog Flu

Only a vet can determine whether your dog has canine influenza and which strain they have. In some states, vets may be required to report cases to the government to help stop the spread of the disease.

As with many viruses, there is no cure for dog flu. Treatment is about managing a dog’s symptoms and may include giving them fluids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce fevers.

If your dog develops a secondary bacterial infection (like pneumonia) as a result of the flu, it may be treated with antibiotics. However, it’s important to understand that antibiotics don’t treat viral infections like canine influenza.

If your dog is showing symptoms of canine influenza, make sure your vet knows that’s why you’re bringing your dog for an appointment. They may want you to take special precautions to prevent your dog from potentially infecting others when you come for your appointment.

Preventing Dog Flu

If your dog is at risk of catching dog flu because they frequently play with other dogs, you might want to consider getting your dog vaccinated against canine influenza. Your vet can help you determine which strain your dog should be vaccinated against based on which one is more prevalent in your area. Likely, though, the vet will vaccinate your dog against both strains.

Generally, the best way to prevent your dog from getting the dog flu is to avoid taking them to places that have had recent outbreaks of the virus and make sure your dog isn’t playing with any dogs who are showing symptoms of being ill.

Can Humans Get the Flu from Dogs?

No, the strains of flu that dogs get don’t infect humans. That version of the flu virus only affects dogs. Luckily, it works the other way, too. We can’t pass on the flu to our dogs because it’s a human-specific strain.

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