If you’ve been watching the news, you may have heard about a “dog flu” outbreak in several different parts of the Midwest and Eastern US. So far, cases have been reported in Chicago, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Possibly other states, news reports keep updating. What is dog flu and should you be worried about your pooch? That’s what we’re going to discuss today together. I have three dogs at home (two elderly pups), so this news scares me too!
Related: The Great Dog Vaccine Debate: Should You or Shouldn’t You?
What is Dog Flu?
Humans aren’t the only species that can catch the flu. Just about every species has influenza strains that they’re susceptible too. Back in 2004, vets and animal disease specialists identified a strain called H3N8. They developed vaccines. The vaccines were working pretty well. Now, though, like our own flu viruses, there’s a new strain that we don’t have a vaccine for: H3N2. That’s the long-story short version. If you want more on the history and development of the virus, this Examiner article is pretty reader-friendly.
Let’s talk about the symptoms, because that’s what I looked for first thing. Symptoms are similar to human flu and include:
- Coughing or sneezing
- Runny nose
- Lack of Appetite
Symptoms take about two days to show up after infection. The virus is spreadable for about 10 days. In about a quarter of the cases (20-25%), dogs exposed to the virus won’t get symptoms but will still be able to pass it on.
Treating the Dog Flu
Treatment for dog flu primarily involves care to help relieve symptoms, just like when you get the flu. With dozens of articles on the subject, you’ll see a few talking about how this virus responds well to antibiotics. Viruses cannot be cured with antibiotics, so either they’re talking about antivirals or someone got their signals crossed. Antivirals work well if you catch the virus very early. Unfortunately, by the time you realize your dog has the flu, it’s usually past the time for antivirals.
For the most part, treatment focuses on keeping your dog hydrated and comfortable until the virus runs its course. Elderly and young dogs may be at a higher risk for developing pneumonia, and that’s where things really get dicey. Antibiotics may be used to treat secondary infections, if found. If you think your dog has the flu, call the vet right away. Make sure you let him know that you suspect dog flu, he may want you to bring your dog in at a specific time to avoid contact with healthy “checkup” dogs.
Related: Tips To Save Money On Dog Vet Bills
Is my Dog at Risk for Dog Flu?
Dog flu is extremely contagious, so if your dog spends a lot of time around other canine pals, he could be at risk. If, like me, your dogs pretty much hang out at home all day, their risks are a lot lower. Let’s take a look at a few high-risk situations:
- Dog parks
- Puppy play groups
- Kennels (boarding your dog for vacation)
- Vet offices
- Doggy Day Care
Even if you don’t take your dog to any of those places, dog flu can be transmitted by contaminated objects. If YOU work at an animal hospital, doggy day care, or other high-risk place, make sure you don’t bring home any items from work. Also, for extra measures, wash your hands and change your clothes before playing with your dog. Do you need to go to those extremes? Maybe, maybe not. That’s the thing with new flu strains, you just don’t know the rules of the engagement. While it’s unlikely that you’ll spread it on your clothes, why take the chance?
The bottom line when it comes to preventing dog flu: keep your dog home. If you’re going on vacation, consider hiring a pet sitter or asking a friend to stay at your house rather than boarding your dog. Skip the playgroups and dog parks for now. Like most flu epidemics, disease specialists will get this under control and your dog can go back to being a social butterfly. Until then, better safe than sorry.
One more thing: I’m not a vet or an animal disease expert. I read numerous articles on the topic, but none of this constitutes medical advice. Only a veterinarian is qualified to give you medical advice regarding dog flu.
Did you deal with the dog flu at all this season? Do you have any tips or information that I missed? Tell us in the comments.