What You Need to Know About Dog Flu: Symptoms, Treatments, & Prevention

Marcela Otero
Mar 30, 2017

What is dog flu?

Just like in humans, canine influenza is a highly infectious respiratory disease. Though dogs don’t have any natural immunity to the bug, the good news is that most pups who contract the flu will usually only have a mild version. However, if left untreated, it can develop into pneumonia and at that point, become dangerous.

There are two main strains of canine flu in the U.S. The first, canine influenza H3N8, was identified as a contagious dog disease in 2004. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it developed from an equine infection and hopped species to dogs. Within a year of its discovery, cases had appeared in Florida and New York City.

The second type of flu virus—H3N2—is of bird origin. This one appeared for the first time in a Chicago outbreak in 2015, and quickly spread to the rest of the U.S. This virus, which has also spread to cats, is the one causing most concern within the pet community.

What are the symptoms of dog flu?

The main symptoms of dog flu are basically the same as in humans:

  • persistent cough
  • sneezing
  • rapid breathing
  • nasal discharge
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • lack of appetite

However, doctors warn that your pup may be contagious, but not present symptoms up to ten days after infection, so it’s best to be highly vigilant if there’s an outbreak nearby. Dogs with “smushed-in” faces, like Pekingese, Boston Terriers, and Bulldogs, can be more susceptible to developing complications, because of the anatomy of their respiratory tract.

Most cases of dog flu are mild and up to twenty percent won’t even manifest symptoms. Still, you should definitely take precautions to insure your dog doesn't contract influenza, but bear in mind that less than ten percent of cases are fatal, even with severe infections. Puppies and elderly dogs are most at risk for developing more serious complications. The chances of infection are close to 100% if your pup is exposed, especially since most dogs in the U.S. haven’t been vaccinated or previously infected.

How to treat dog flu

The treatment for dog flu depends, really, on the severity of the infection. If it seems like your pup may be infected, take it to the vet as soon as possible to determine if it’s the flu or another infection with similar symptoms.

Dog flu treatment at home

For mild cases, your vet will probably recommend supportive treatment, just as you would for a human:

  • lots of fluids
  • bed rest
  • monitoring
  • quarantine for at least 21 days, in a multi-pet household

For more serious cases, they’ll probably prescribe some cough medication, and antibiotics if there’s a secondary infection.

Dog flu hospital treatment

A severely ill dog, however, may require hospitalization for more intensive care with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and oxygen therapy.

How much does the canine vaccination for influenza cost?

The vaccinations for canine influenza cost around $100, and many doctors are recommending preventative shots for dogs that spend a lot of time around other pets, like show dogs or dogs that board regularly. These are administered through two shots, spaced two to four weeks apart, and then an additional seven day waiting period for your dog to actually be protected from the flu. During the first week after each shot, your dog will have his immunological system suppressed, which can make it more likely it can catch some other, unrelated disease.

Can humans catch canine influenza?

No, generally speaking, humans can't catch canine influenza, alhough the CDC is monitoring the possibility, so feel free to give them lots of love and care. If you have a multi-pet household, this might be a bit of a long term proposition, as most dogs recover within two to three weeks.

Prevention

Dog flu is highly contagious and can be transmitted through shared toys, sneezing on each other, boop kisses, and even your clothing can carry the virus:

  • Hand-washing - Hands can be contagious for up to 12 hours
  • Change your clothes - Clothing can carry the virus for up to 24 hours
  • Clean equipment and your pet’s favorite areas - Surfaces can keep the virus alive and infectious for up to 48 hours

Since the first two to four day period of viral shedding is the most infectious, try to keep your pet away from public areas like pet parks, kennels, doggy hotels, groomers, and even high-traffic vet offices. Limit your pup’s contact with other dogs, but if you absolutely must take it somewhere, be sure to ask if they’ve had cases of canine influenza, and what preventative measures are being taken.