This week, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine confirmed over a dozen cases of canine influenza H3N2, aka "dog flu" in Florida and Georgia. So far, the dog flu has been spread through dog shows, but experts worry the disease might spread quickly to other groups of dogs. This strain of dog flu is the same one that caused a severe outbreak in 2015. And if another outbreak spreads, as a dog owner, there are some very important things you need to know.
1. All dogs can be susceptible to the flu.
According to the University of Florida, most dogs don't have an immunity to this strain of the flu, which means most dogs are susceptible to catching the flu. Your dog's risks rise if you put them in social situations.
Dr. Cynda Crawford from the University of Florida said in a Facebook Live event about the flu, "We love to take our dogs everywhere with us now. We're even taking them into restaurants. The places that we can take our dogs are ever expanding. So most dogs are probably in a risk group for exposure."
2. Dog flu is highly contagious, and your dog can get it from his or her favorite places.
Dr. Crawford explained, "This virus is spread by direct content of a susceptible dog with an infectious dog. But it is also spread very effectively and efficiently by contact with contaminated clothing, contaminated hands, contaminated objects in the environment. So this virus would last in the environment, on our clothing and on our hands, for eight to 24 hours."
That means staying super vigilant if you're in an area where dog flu has been reported. And the fact that it's this easy to spread is one of the reasons it turns into an epidemic quickly. Also, the University of Florida mentions that the disease can spread quickly in areas with lots of dogs like dog parks, boarding facilities, and shelters.
3. The symptoms of dog flu are similar to human flu.
Like humans, dogs with the flu experience a frequent cough, runny nose, and sneezing. Dogs also might be lethargic, decreased appetite, and fever. Symptoms usually last two weeks, but most dogs recover fully without any complications.
4. If your dog is coughing, call your vet before bringing your dog in.
This is very important. The University of Florida said in their press release, "Call your veterinarian. Do not go to the clinic without calling first. Your dog may have a very contagious infection that can easily spread to other dogs in the clinic." Also keep track of when you first saw symptoms and if your dog has been to daycare, dog parks, boarding, etc. That can help your vet determine where the flu came from or other areas that might be susceptible. To confirm that it's dog flu, your vet will perform a diagnostic test that will let them know if your dog has the contagious disease.
5. A sick dog needs to be isolated, so make sure to listen to your vet.
The biggest worry with this disease is that it will spread and create an epidemic. So if you're the owner of a sick dog, there's a lot you can do to prevent the spread of disease. Infected dogs can be contagious for up to four weeks.
Dr. Crawford urged "owners who do have sick dogs not to take them in public. And to consult their veterinarian on the proper care of that dog and how long it needs to be isolated in the home to prevent the spread of illness in the community."
6. Even though dog flu should be taken very seriously, it's usually not life-threatening.
Most dogs recover from the flu without complications. But the University of Florida notes that about 20 percent of dogs develop pneumonia, which can be more serious. So if you do have a sick dog, make sure to keep an eye out for labored breathing, decreased appetite, and severe lethargy.
7. Owners can protect their dog by keeping them out of big social situations in areas with reported infections.
Dr. Crawford encourages owners in areas that are affected, like Florida, to avoid boarding their dogs or going to dog parks. In addition, she advises, "Refrain from being around dogs who are coughing or have other signs of upper respiratory infection. Don't allow your dog to socialize with those dogs. Do I think that dog owners need to stop all activities with their dogs? No." But she does note that being aware of the risks in your area helps dog owners know how careful to be.
8. There's a vaccine against the disease, and some pet owners should consider getting it.
Dr. Crawford is a big advocate for getting your dog vaccinated, particularly in areas where H3N2 has been reported. Dr. Crawford said, "Vaccination is still the primary tool that we have to stop influenza virus spread from dog to dog." And similar to the human flu vaccine, it helps prevent your dog from catching the disease, or if it does catch it, it makes symptoms less severe. Talk to your vet to find out if vaccination is right for your dog.
9. Don't be fooled by the name – cats can get this flu, too.
Dr. Crawford said that this strain of canine influenza has been shown to infect cats as well. So even though it's called dog flu, your feline friends can catch it, too.
The most powerful tool a pet owner has is knowledge, so stay in touch with your vet in case dog flu is reported in your area.
With a little care and attention, we can keep the dog flu from turning into an outbreak amongst our best friends.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.