Canine influenza (i.e., dog flu) is understandably concerning for pet owners. While this contagious viral respiratory infection can cause an affected dog to experience signs similar to those in humans who get the flu, key differences and considerations exist between the virus’s human and canine strains. By learning to understand these differences, their implications, and how to address them, you will be able to navigate this concerning canine condition with clarity and confidence. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville team answers your frequently asked questions (FAQs) about canine influenza, how the virus spreads, and the best ways to prevent your dog from contracting the condition.

Question: What is canine influenza?

Answer: Specific strains of the influenza A virus cause canine influenza, a contagious viral respiratory infection. Researchers have identified two primary strains, H3N8 and H3N2, which are not endemic to dogs but have evolved from strains that have previously infected other species. The H3N8 strain jumped from horses to dogs, while the H3N2 strain originated from avian species.

Q: How can my dog contract the virus?

A: Canine influenza is highly contagious, and all dogs are susceptible. The virus can be transmitted in multiple ways, including through: 

  • Respiratory secretions — The most common transmission mode is through direct contact with an infected dog. When a dog with canine influenza coughs, barks, or sneezes, they release respiratory droplets containing the virus. Dogs in close proximity can inhale these droplets and become infected.
  • Contaminated objects — The virus can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours. A dog can become infected by coming in contact with objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus, such as floors, toys, food or water bowls, leashes, collars, and clothing.
  • Third-party transfer — A person who has been in contact with an infected dog can inadvertently transfer the virus to other dogs. Remember, if you pet an infected dog and then touch another dog without having washed your hands, you can spread canine influenza.
  • High-risk environments — Canine influenza outbreaks are most common where dogs are in close contact. Your pooch may contract this virus if they have been in one of the following places:
    • Kennels and boarding facilities
    • Animal shelters
    • Doggy daycares 
    • Dog parks
    • Grooming facilities
    • Pet stores

Q: What are canine influenza signs?

A: A dog will typically begin exhibiting canine influenza signs two to four days after being exposed to the virus. Most dogs develop a mild infection, with a cough that lasts one to three weeks, but some dogs’ infection signs become more severe, including a high fever, pneumonia, increased respiratory rate and effort, and a secondary bacterial infection. Canine influenza signs can include:

  • A soft, moist cough, or a dry, harsh cough followed by gagging
  • Ocular and nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Fever

Q: Can my dog transmit the flu to me?

A: The influenza strains that affect dogs, specifically H3N8 and H3N2, have not been shown to infect humans. In addition, these strains, unlike the human strains that are constantly evolving and requiring production of a novel vaccine each year, canine flu strains are more stable. While your dog can’t transmit the flu to you, other pets, including cats, can become infected with canine influenza, so you should restrict your contact with any pet suspected of having the flu.

Q: Is canine influenza the same as kennel cough?

A: While both canine influenza and kennel cough cause dogs’ respiratory signs, the two diseases differ. Kennel cough is a bacterial infection caused by the Bordetella bacterium, while canine influenza begins as a viral infection that may develop a secondary bacterial infection. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Clinic of Wallisville team must differentiate between the two because each condition requires a specific treatment to resolve your dog’s signs. Kennel cough treatment may include antimicrobial therapy, while canine influenza will not benefit from antibiotics unless a secondary bacterial infection develops. 

Q: How is canine influenza treated?

A: As with most viruses, canine influenza treatment is mostly supportive care, which typically includes hydration and nutrition, rest, and medications to suppress the cough or reduce fever Our Neighborhood Veterinary Clinic of Wallisville team may also prescribe an antibiotic to treat secondary bacterial infections and reduce airway inflammation. If your dog is severely ill, especially if they develop pneumonia, hospitalization may be required to provide them with more intensive care. Most dogs who contract the canine influenza recover. However, the H3N2 strain has been reported as being responsible for some dogs’ death.

Q: What can I do to protect my dog from getting sick?

A: The best way to prevent your dog from contracting canine influenza is vaccination. Vaccines are available for both canine influenza strains, including a combination vaccine that protects against both strains. While vaccination may not prevent an infection, the inoculation may reduce your dog’s illness duration and severity. You can also prevent your dog from contracting this virus by following these tips: 

  • Avoiding boarding facilities, dog parks, and grooming facilities when a known canine influenza outbreak occurs
  • Washing your hands after contact with a dog other than your own
  • Changing your clothes after coming in contact with a sick dog
  • Avoiding interaction with dogs who are exhibiting illness signs

If your dog is exhibiting illness signs, or to schedule their canine influenza vaccination, contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville team.