A Vet’s Perspective on Canine Influenza and the Dog Flu Shot

This time of year, we hear a lot of talk about remembering to get our flu shots. And they are important—they can protect us from getting really sick and getting people around us sick.

But what about your dog? Has your dog gotten his flu shot yet?

Just like us, dogs have their very own strains of flu to contend with. The dog flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is passed from one dog to the next by any nose to nose contact. It can also be spread by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing and can be transported on clothing or hands by humans exposed to infected dogs.

Unfortunately, the time when dogs are most contagious is before they start showing clinical signs of the disease. Because of this, often owners are unaware of their dog’s exposure which can lead to worsening symptoms and spreading of the disease.

This is why the dog flu shot is so important! So important in fact, that we created this post as a way to answer the most common questions we hear about canine influenza, such as symptoms, spread, treatment, and of course the dog flu shot!

Are the Symptoms of the Dog Flu the Same as in Humans?

A dog that contracts the flu and hasn’t had a dog flu shot can have a varying level of worrying symptoms.

In its mild form, influenza causes a soft moist cough that can last from 10-30 days. In some dogs, the cough also takes on a dry hacking character and may be mistaken for the more well-known Kennel Cough complex of upper respiratory disease. Infected dogs may also have nasal discharge, lethargy, fever, and feel generally unwell.

In the severe form of the disease, dogs will develop a very high fever of over 104 degrees and difficult, rapid breathing, which is secondary to bleeding into their lungs. This bleeding into the lungs will also lead to some patients coughing up blood.

The onset of these signs is rapid, and in a few cases (about 5-8%) can lead to death within 4-6 hours! Even if a dog makes it through the initial insult, secondary bacterial pneumonia can occur due to the lung damage caused by the disease.

This aggressive form of the disease is rare, but it is one of the reasons veterinarians recommend the dog flu shot! Vaccination not only protects your own dog but also will limit the spread of the disease if an outbreak does occur.

Is the Dog Flu Seasonal?

Actually, dogs can contract canine influenza year-round. The risk for contracting the flu has more to do with the lifestyle of the pet than with the time of year. If your dog is exposed to other dogs, visits a boarding or grooming facility, or if you could be exposed to sick dogs and bring it home to your animal, your dog should get a dog flu shot.

Just like in humans, very young and old animals along with animals who have other underlying conditions are at higher risk of contracting the disease and being more severely affected by it.

If My Dog Does Get the Flu, what is the Treatment?

Most of the treatment for the flu is supportive– fluid therapy, antibiotics, and nutritional support are among the possible treatments.

Anti-viral medications may be used if the disease is very early in its progression or to attempt to prevent the disease in animals exposed to an infected animal.

How Common is the Dog Flu in My Area?

There are two major strains of canine influenza—one is believed to have jumped from horses to racing greyhounds, the other has been imported by well-meaning rescue groups that are bringing dogs in from foreign countries and distributing them across the US.

You can see more information on the distribution of canine flu cases in the United States with’s yearly outbreak map. Keep in mind that these numbers represent the cases that have been reported with a verified diagnosis.

Suspected cases are not always confirmed by testing, as testing for canine influenza is complicated so often a diagnosis is made based on clinical signs and/or history of exposure.

Can I Catch the Flu From My Dog?

Currently, humans cannot contract the same strains of flu that dogs can. But history and research indicate it is a possibility in the future.

In a study published in June in MBIO, a journal for the American Society for Microbiology scientists, microbiologists reported having demonstrated that a strain unrelated to the dog strains of influenza had jumped from pigs to dogs.

The significance of this lies in that the majority of flu pandemics are associated with pigs as the intermediary host of the disease from birds to humans. There is concern that the more virulent form of the dog flu could mutate and become a source for humans in the future. This press release by Aldolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute discusses the issue in detail.

What all of this means is that in addition to monitoring the import of dogs into the US, the best thing we can do to protect both dogs and their people from catching the flu is to vaccinate!

Can the Flu Spread to My Cat?

Cases in cats have been reported in very intensive shelter situations but they are not common. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for cats at this time, but the incidence is so rare that it should not be a primary concern.

Do I Need to Get Every Dog in My House the Dog Flu Shot?

Yes, although the flu vaccine does a good job of limiting the progression of the disease for an individual animal and helps with the transmission of the disease to others, it does not completely eliminate shedding of the virus if a dog is exposed. So even if only one of your dogs goes to the dog park or the kennel, he could still bring it home to the rest of the household.

How Do I Get my Dog a Flu Shot?

Our mobile vets can actually come to you to administer the dog flu shot in the comfort of your own home!

If your dog has never been vaccinated for influenza, an initial dose is administered, and the second dose must be administered between 2 and 6 weeks after the first. This is the same as the multiple boosters your dog had as a puppy to initiate his immunity to other diseases that we vaccinate for.

If a dog is going to visit a boarding facility, show, or another event with high exposure risk, the second dose should be administered at least two weeks prior to the event to allow the dogs immunity to the disease to become fully activated.

Beyond this initial series of shots, your pet will need to be vaccinated once yearly to stay maximally protected.

Get Help from a Mobile Vet

This year as you are planning to protect the human members of your family from the misery of the flu, don’t forget your furry family members as well! Book an appointment with your mobile vet today to administer the vaccination to your pet in the most stress-free and convenient manner possible. Call Vet’s Here today at 1-888-838-2738 or send us a message online to schedule your exam.

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