Canine Influenza – The Truth behind the Scare

One cannot turn on the TV or look at any social media outlet without seeing something regarding the influenza outbreak affecting our beloved dogs. With all of the information out there it can become overwhelming and scary for owners to know what is the truth, what is exaggeration, and what is simply wrong. We want to ease your fears with information that you can trust. We know that the best way to face fears is with the correct knowledge.

Flu Facts

  • There are 2 current strains: H3N8 and H3N2.
  • The strain being reported in the current outbreaks is the H3N2.
  • Highly contagious between dogs. 80% of dogs that are exposed to the virus will contract it.
  • Mortality rate (percentage of dogs who have the flu who will die from it) is <10%.
  • First occurred in the USA in 2004 in racing greyhounds, and is believed to have mutated from the common horse flu to one that can infect dogs as well.
  • Another outbreak occurred in 2015 in the Chicago area, spread through Atlanta and much of the country, including Western North Carolina.
  • There is no proof to the rumor that it was introduced by rescued/imported dogs from Asia.
  • H3N2 is an adaptation to the bird flu that infects dogs.
  • It DOES NOT appear to infect humans!
  • Cats can become infected but it is extremely rare (only 1 case has been reported).
  • Much like the human flu in that it causes acute respiratory illness BUT is not a “seasonal” flu.
  • Signs and symptoms resemble that of kennel cough (a common respiratory illness in canines), but is accompanied with more fever, lethargy and decreased appetite.

Transmission Facts

  • Spread by coughing, sneezing up to about 5 feet away from the infected animal. Also it is spread on contaminated objects (bowls, blankets, floors, cages and the animal’s coat), and people (clothes, shoes, hands).
  • Secretions can live up to:
    • 48 hours on floors, cages, countertops, etc.
    • 24 hours on clothing/blankets
    • 12 hours on hands
  • Flu Virus Attack Track –
    Virus → Respiratory tract → infects and replicates the cells → Inflammatory response (rhinitis, tracheitis, bronchitis, bronchiolitis) → Secondary bacterial infection (nasal discharge and coughing)
  • Incubation period is 2-4 days after contact. During this time, there are no signs/symptoms shown and the highest amounts of the virus are shed.
  • Dogs will shed the virus and are infective before they feel sick, and look apparently “normal.”
  • 20-25% may harbor the flu but will show no clinical signs of sickness, still be carriers of the virus and able to infect other dogs. Sick animals and carriers can shed the virus for up to 28 days from exposure.


Signs and Symptoms Facts

  • Mild –
    • Cough (wet and moist or dry)
    • Cough lasting 10-21 days even with treatment
    • Nasal discharge
    • Sneezing
    • Eye discharge
    • Lethargy
    • Not eating/drinking
    • Low grade fever
  • Severe –
    • Pneumonia
    • High grade fever >104
    • Increased breathing
    • Increased breathing effort
    • Consolidation of lung lobe(s)

Diagnosing Facts

  • Cannot be solely diagnosed on symptoms alone.
  • Within the first 4 days of clinical signs, a swab sample can be taken from either the nose or the throat.
  • Blood samples are the most reliable and sensitive and can be taken either within the first 7 days of clinical signs or 10-14 days later.
  • There are currently NO rapid response tests available.

Treatment Facts

  • Just like with the human flu the most important treatment is supportive care –
    1. Fluids: to help prevent dehydration.
    2. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory): to reduce fever and inflammation.
    3. Antibiotics: to treat the secondary bacterial infections commonly associated with a flu infection.
  • Most dogs make a full recovery in 2-3 weeks.
  • The antiviral drug used in human treatment is not used in canines. There is very little known about the usage, efficacy and safety in dogs.

Prevention/Control Facts

  • Dogs showing symptoms and/or that have been diagnosed with the flu need to be isolated/ quarantined away from other pets.
  • Owners need to keep dogs with symptoms or that could have been exposed away from shelters, boarding facilities, doggie daycare facilities, groomers, dog parks, doggie classes and any places that dogs can be in close contact.
  • If you are bringing your dog into the veterinarian for the possible flu please stay in your car and call into the office to tell the receptionist you are outside. This will allow for the staff to prepare for your dog to be seen. Do not be alarmed if your dog is taken straight into an isolation room.

Vaccine Facts

  • The vaccine we carry covers both strains and can be started as early as 7 weeks and older. It does require a booster to be given 2-4 weeks later and the dog acquires the best protection 7-10 days after the second booster.
  • The vaccine for the canine flu works very much like the human flu vaccine.
    -It does not prevent the flu in every case. It does decreases the severity and the duration of the flu. It also aids in decreasing the amount and length of time the virus is shed.
  • The flu vaccine is not a core required vaccine. It is considered a “lifestyle” vaccine. That means that is highly recommended for dogs that are at an increased risk due to their habits. These risk factors would include going to a groomer, boarding facilities, doggie daycare, dog parks, dog shows, dog classes, or come in contact with other dogs besides in the same household.

Equipping yourself with the right facts and knowledge will help ease the fear of the canine flu. If at any time you have questions or concerns please call your veterinarian.