Dog Flu - Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Dog Flu - Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Author WDF Staff


Canine influenza virus, or dog flu, is a respiratory disease that can quickly spread between dogs. Dog owners worldwide are often worried about this disease, and it is a good idea to prepare yourself for any potential health problem your dog might experience.

All dog owners should know how to react if something happens to their beloved pet. If you know how to spot different symptoms and which diseases they are connected to, you will learn how to act and whether the problem is serious.

The human flu season usually peaks from December to February, but the flu activity can last even until May. Canine influenza, or dog flu, is different. It is not a seasonal thing, and your dog is not safe from it outside the flu season. We bring you basic things you need to know about dog flu, how to treat it, how dangerous it is, and how to react if your dog gets infected.

What is the canine influenza virus or dog flu?

Dog flu is a respiratory disease that affects dogs. It is caused by the Influenza A virus, similar to the ones causing human flu. There are two types of dog flu viruses known to the scientific community: H3N2 and H3N8.

H3N8 influenza virus

H3N8 is a strain of the flu virus that affects dogs and is believed to have originated in horses. Scientists believe that this specific strain jumped species and went from only infecting horses to only infecting dogs. The first recorded outbreak happened in 2004 and is connected to a Florida dog race track. The first affected dog breed is also the one that is most effective on the race track - the Greyhound.

H3N2 influenza virus

H3N2 is the second flu virus strain, and scientists believe that it jumped from birds to dogs. Scientists concluded that the virus originated in Asia, from where it rapidly spread on dogs in the US. This strain of the virus is responsible for the big 2015-2016 outbreak that infected many Midwestern dogs. This is still an active virus spreading all over the canine world.

dog with flu laying

How dangerous is the dog flu?

The good news is that 20-25% of the infected dogs are asymptomatic and show no flu symptoms. The bad news is that nearly all dogs that get in contact with the virus will get infected. Those are scientific facts that were confirmed with experiments in different laboratories throughout the world.

Most cases of canine influenza are not that serious. Dogs will show light or mild symptoms, and the disease will pass after some time. However, there are worse cases where dogs experience substantial health issues and extremely uncomfortable symptoms. The worst of the worst scenarios can end with dogs developing pneumonia, high fever, and have difficulty breathing.

Less than 10% of dog flu cases end up having fatal consequences, which is quite a large number in our opinion. You should visit your vet as soon as you start noticing influenza symptoms.

Dog flu symptoms

Keep in mind that dog flu is not a seasonal thing. Dogs can get canine influenza all year long, and as an owner, you should probably be aware of the dog flu symptoms.

If you start noticing any of these dog flu symptoms, call your vet and ask for advice and further steps. Keep an eye out for:

  • Runny eyes
  • Eye discharge
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing

The symptoms associated with the canine flu look like a common dog cold (like the common cold in humans) and kennel cough. There are ways to understand and determine if your dog has influenza or suffer from kennel cough; the most significant difference is lethargy. Dogs suffering from kennel cough will not lose their appetite, and their energy level will remain the same.

How do I treat dog flu?

If you are trying to be a responsible dog owner, make sure your vet is informed about your dog’s medical problem and the possibility of a dog flu infection. Some vets are even required by law to report dog flu cases to the local or state government so that the outbreak can be monitored and hopefully contained.

The vet will let you know what steps to take next and how to make sure your dog gets the care they need. Influenza is caused by a virus, and there is no treatment for that. Your dog needs to overcome the disease naturally. That is the worst and the most challenging part. All treatments are just supportive and are in place to make sure your dog is as comfortable as they can be while battling the disease.

Vets can prescribe medications that play a supportive role, such as;

  • Anti-inflammatory meds for reducing fever
  • Antibiotics to battle secondary bacterial infections
  • Lots of fluids to help the dog’s dehydrated body (because of fever)
  • Disinfectant to help stop the spread

It is also essential that infected dogs be isolated from the rest of the pets, especially if you have other dogs at home. If the infected dog had been in contact with your other dogs, it is very likely that they too will get infected.

Is it possible to prevent the dog flu from infecting my dog?

If you heard or suspect that there are cases of dog influenza virus in your neighborhood, you could take steps to prevent your dog from getting infected. Good hygiene is the key. Keep yourself clean, disinfect your hands and clothes before interacting with your dog, and don’t take them for a walk to places where there are many dogs.

The second and most important way of preventing your dog from contracting the canine influenza virus is the dog flu vaccine. Ask your vet for advice, and see if getting your dog vaccinated is the right way of preventing this disease. Vets usually recommend vaccines based on your lifestyle and habits. If you and your dog travel a lot, attend dog shows, parks, kennels, doggy schools, or any place where there are many dogs, the vet might recommend the canine influenza vaccine.

There are vaccines for both dog influenza strains, and if you think that might be a good option for you and your dog, ask your vet for advice.

Now you know what to look for and how to keep your dog safe from the nasty dog flu. Follow these precaution tips, and we are sure your puppy will remain healthy and happy for many years.

World Dog Finder team