Dr. Lori Teller, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, shares her tips for keeping dogs safe from canine influenza during the winter and year-round
Unfortunately, dogs are not free from the aches and pains of the flu.
As humans in the U.S. battle a flu season longer and more severe than most in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the country’s dogs are facing flu outbreaks of their own.
“Canine Influenza [also called canine flu and dog flu] is a highly contagious respiratory infection of dogs caused by an influenza A virus. In the United States, canine influenza is caused by two strains: H3N8, identified in the U.S. for the first time in 2004, and H3N2, first identified in 2015 when it caused illness in hundreds of dogs in Chicago and the Midwest. Both strains are highly contagious and spread easily from dog to dog. Dogs may be contagious three days before they show signs of illness, which can then last for several weeks,” Dr. Lori Teller, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
PEOPLE asked Dr. Teller for her expertise on protecting pooches from the canine influenza outbreaks appearing nationwide and telling when your pet has canine flu.
“Outbreaks of canine influenza flare up from time to time. The good news now is that there is more awareness and knowledge of the virus, and there are vaccinations available to help protect your dogs,” Dr. Teller shared.Dog flu can be spread through direct physical contact between canines or via objects touched by infected dogs, such as toys or water bowls. The H3N2 strain can even be transmitted to and from cats, but there have been no known cases of humans being infected with canine influenza.
One of the ways to protect a pet from this highly contagious sickness is through vaccination, according to the AVMA president.
“There are vaccines for both strains of the virus. Getting your dog vaccinated for canine influenza may not prevent infection altogether, but it may reduce the severity and duration of the illness. If your dog is often around other dogs, talk to your veterinarian to determine if vaccination would be appropriate for your pet,” she shared.
Dr. Teller also advised that responsible pet ownership can weaken the spread of canine flu.
“The flu is spread by contact from dog to dog. Owners who suspect their dog has the flu should monitor dogs for signs of disease and seek veterinary care if they believe their dog may be sick. This helps to prevent the disease from spreading to healthy dogs,” she said.
According to Dr. Teller, dogs with a milder form of canine influenza often exhibit a soft, moist, persistent cough, lethargy, sneezing, and loss of appetite. More severe forms of dog flu may cause canines to develop high fevers and signs of pneumonia.
“There is a mild form of the disease and a more severe form that is accompanied by pneumonia. Owners should always be on the lookout for warning signs; if your dog stops eating or has difficulty breathing, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible,” Dr. Teller advised.
Dog owners should also know that dog flu is not just a wintertime woe. Canine influenza outbreaks can happen year-round, so pet parents should always watch for symptoms.
Treatment for dogs with a milder form of canine influenza is similar to what a human dealing with the flu requires.
“Treatment for canine influenza, as for most viral diseases, is largely supportive, which means making your dog as comfortable as possible while the virus runs its course and being sure your pet has access to good nutrition, fresh water, and a quiet place to rest. Most dogs recover from canine influenza within 2-3 weeks,” said Dr. Teller.