Canine influenza: What you need to know

It’s flu season again, a time when people think about getting flu shots for themselves and other family members. But there are some members of the household it may not have occurred to you to vaccinate against the flu: your dogs. Yep, your dogs — they can get the flu too. Although canine influenza isn’t seasonal and cannot be passed to humans, human flu season is a good time for owners to think about protecting their dogs against the virus.

About dog flu

The virus that causes flu in dogs—CIV H3N8—was first identified in January 2004. Since then, dog flu cases have now been reported in 39 states. CIV can spread quickly and easily, and because most dogs have no natural immunity against CIV, virtually all dogs exposed to the virus become infected.

How dog flu is spread

CIV is spread through direct dog-to-dog contact and through airborne particles released when an infected dog coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread on items in a dog’s environment, such as food bowls or bedding. The virus can remain active for up to 12 hours on hands and up to 24 hours on clothing.

Risk factors for dogs

Because CIV is spread so easily, dogs are at increased risk for catching it if they frequent places like:

· Boarding facilities

· Doggie daycares

· Groomers

· Dog parks

· Group training

Since a flu outbreak can happen anywhere dogs get together, pet care facilities are increasingly requiring flu vaccination for dogs before receiving them. In fact, according to a recent survey, about 25% of pet care facilities reported they have already implemented a requirement.

A dog’s risk factors for CIV infection are the same as for Bordetella (also known as kennel cough or canine cough). As a result, more facilities are seeing the wisdom in requiring both flu and Bordetella vaccination.

Signs of dog flu

The most common sign of dog flu is a soft, wet cough that may last three to four weeks. Other signs include fever, runny nose, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Like human flu, dog flu can lead to more serious conditions like pneumonia, and up to 8% of dogs that get the flu can die from infection. That said, dog flu cannot be diagnosed by signs alone. A veterinarian will need to perform blood tests to determine if a dog has the flu.

Recognizing the signs of dog flu is not enough to prevent spreading the disease. In fact, by the time a CIV-infected dog shows signs of illness, the dog is likely to have stopped spreading the virus. Prior to showing signs of illness, dogs can spread CIV to surrounding objects, which become sources of infection, as well as directly to other dogs. About 20% of infected dogs will show no signs of disease but can still spread CIV to other dogs.

How owners can help protect dogs against the flu

The things that people do to reduce the spread of the flu — washing hands frequently, covering coughs, staying home when sick — do not work at the canine level. Fortunately though, dogs can get flu vaccinations, too. The first CIV vaccine approved in 2009, Nobivac® Canine Flu H3N8 from Merck Animal Health, has been shown to reduce the spread of disease among dogs.

The maker of Nobivac vaccines, Merck Animal Health, has teamed up with Mutt the spokesdog to help educate dog owners about the flu. Readers can learn more about dog flu and watch a video at detailing Mutt’s personal experience with the flu.