There have been rumblings for several months now about the canine flu. An outbreak began in Chicago in April 2015. It spread to 23 states in 5 months.
Are you wondering if canine flu is still on the radar? Do you know what it means to your dog’s health?
What is canine flu (CIV)?
Canine influenza virus (CIV) is an infection caused by one of 2 main viruses; H3N8 and H3N2. H3N2 caused the Chicago outbreak. This H3N2 is very different than human H3N2 seasonal flu.
Canine H3N2 began as a bird flu that mutated into a canine flu. It’s been circulating in China and South Korea for years. How H3N2 came to the US, we don’t know.
H3N8 caused a 2004 outbreak of canine flu and came from an equine flu. It still causes sporadic flu infections, but it’s not associated with this recent outbreak.
Can humans get CIV?
As of now, there’ve been no reported cases of a human getting the H3N2 canine flu. And it’s not likely there will be.
It’s uncommon for viruses to jump species. But it’s not impossible.
Influenza viruses are constantly changing. CIV could change and infect humans, which would be a real problem. Humans have no immunity to new viruses. If people were infected with canine flu, the virus would spread like wildfire.
H3N8 jumped from horses to dogs. And H3N2 jumped from birds to dogs and has also infected cats. A human mutation is not out of the question.
Because of this, the CDC is closely monitoring both H3N8 and H3N2. But CIV is considered a low threat to humans.
Is your dog likely to get the flu?
Although we may not be hearing as much about canine flu now as we were last year, the virus is still around.
It’s still possible for your dog to get CIV. If your dog goes to doggy day care, a kennel, a dog park, a groomer or any place with a lot of dogs, they’re at risk.
Do you travel with your dog? Even with few reported cases in your hometown, your dog can pick up the virus from a dog in a different state.
Did you recently rescue a dog? Rescue dogs are at risk because the virus spreads quickly in shelters. Homeless dogs come from different parts of the country and bring the virus with them.
Can you prevent CIV?
A vaccine exists for both H3N8 and H3N2. If your dog is social and spends time with other dogs, talk to your vet about the benefits and risks of the vaccine.
Many shelters are vaccinating their dogs, and more and more kennels are requiring the vaccine too.
According to Merck, the maker of one of the CIV vaccines, 1 out of 5 facilities they surveyed are requiring the flu vaccine in addition to the Bordatella (kennel cough) vaccine.
As in humans, the vaccine is not a guarantee that your dog won’t get the flu. A vaccine just helps prevent the spread of the virus and lessens the symptoms. Since canine flu is a new virus, all dogs are susceptible because they have no natural immunity to it.
If your dog doesn’t come into contact with other dogs, and people in your home don’t either, there’s probably no need for the vaccine.
What are the symptoms?
Some dogs will show signs they’re sick and some won’t. Some dogs’ symptoms will be severe and some won’t. But you’ll be surprised that the flu looks the same whether you’re a human or a dog.
Your dog might have watery eyes, coughing, fever, loss of appetite and energy, and sneezing just like you would. But not all dogs have the same symptoms.
And sometimes that cough your dog has is just kennel cough and not the flu. They’re often mistaken for each other.
Should your dog get the flu, their symptoms will most likely be mild. But in some cases they can be very severe. The most serious situations can turn into pneumonia… and this can be fatal.
If your dog is showing signs of the flu, see the vet. There’s a simple test requiring only a throat or eye swab. But this needs to be done early on because the virus doesn’t “shed”—get excreted from the body—for long.
Most dogs will get better on their own, but your vet may prescribe medication to make your dog more comfortable. They’ll suggest lots of fluids and other measures to help boost the immune system.
Only if a secondary infection, like pneumonia, takes hold will they prescribe antibiotics.
How is CIV spread?
CIV is spread by direct contact between dogs when they kiss, lick or nuzzle. It can be spread through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze. If your dog comes in contact with contaminated food bowls, doorknobs, or clothing they can catch the virus.
The hands of veterinary clinic staff and shelter workers can all spread the virus, and so can you if you’ve touched an infected dog.
You should know what canine flu looks like, particularly if you have a social dog that’s at greater risk of getting it. But the flu is not something to be overly concerned about. Just be sure your dog gets the medical care they need if you suspect the flu.
Has your dog had canine flu? How severe were the symptoms? Share your experience in the comment section at the top.