Golden retriever with cold patch on head

Vaccines can help prevent some types of dog flu.

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Dog flu: symptoms, treatment and prevention

By Dr. Katy Ellison MA VetMB MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Humans get flu, but do dogs too? And if so, are the symptoms the same? Read on to find out what you should do if you think your dog might have the flu.

If your normally full-of-beans dog is sneezing, coughing and looking down in the dumps, you may wonder if they have the doggy equivalent of flu. So is this possible? Do dogs get the flu?

In humans, flu is an infectious disease caused by the influenza virus. Most of us will be familiar with the symptoms, which include a fever, cough and runny nose. There is also a canine influenza virus and there are two strains that are known to infect dogs, H3N8 and H3N2. Canine influenza virus is fairly prevalent in the USA and China, but in Europe it is not yet a significant cause of respiratory disease in dogs. So strictly speaking, dogs in the UK do not get flu.

In total, there are about 20 different pathogens that cause flu-like signs in dogs, and together they cause something called Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), also known as kennel cough. Pathogens are the microscopic organisms responsible for causing infectious disease, and include bacteria and viruses. The main pathogens responsible for CIRDC in the UK are Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine adenovirus type 2, canine distemper virus, herpes virus and parainfluenza virus.

What are the symptoms of dog flu?

The symptoms associated with infectious respiratory disease in dogs are similar to flu-like symptoms in people, namely a cough, nasal discharge, fever, poor appetite, lethargy and shortness of breath. Most dogs will be mildly affected, but in a minority of cases the infection can progress to the lower respiratory tract and lungs resulting in pneumonia. Where pneumonia has developed, the signs will be much more severe and are likely to include a significant increase in difficulty breathing (dyspnoea).

What is the treatment for dog flu?

The treatment for dog flu is largely supportive. Imagine how you would care for a human member of your family if they had flu – the principles are largely similar for dogs. So give your pet plenty of rest, make sure they drink enough water to stop dehydration and also tempt them to eat. Most cases of infectious respiratory disease in dogs are caused by viruses and this means that antibiotics are not effective. Sometimes antibiotics will be used if there is a secondary bacterial infection. This can develop if a virus weakens the dog’s natural defences and allows a bacterial infection to take hold. Anti-inflammatory painkillers may be prescribed, if your dog has a fever or inflamed throat.

How can you prevent dog flu?

There are steps that can be taken to help prevent canine respiratory infection. Vaccinations are available against a small number of pathogens. There are two vaccines that are commonly available in the UK. The Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine is intra-nasal, in other words the vaccine is administered into the nostrils. The canine parainfluenza vaccine is sometimes given by injection with annual vaccinations or may be included in the intra-nasal vaccine depending on the vaccine used. Unfortunately, vaccines against the other pathogens are not available, so it is not possible to completely prevent canine respiratory disease by vaccination.

In a kennel environment, or anywhere where lots of dogs mix, the spread of infection can be reduced by proper hygiene as well as isolating affected dogs.

How do I know if my dog has the flu?

If your dog is showing signs similar to the symptoms that you would expect to get if you had the flu, then they probably have the canine equivalent of flu. The most frequent clinical sign in dogs is a cough that will be present in up to 70% of cases. Other signs commonly seen are a nasal discharge, changes in breathing (in particular an increase in the effort the dog is making to breathe), fever, poor appetite and a lack of energy.

How long does dog flu last?

The clinical signs of canine infectious respiratory disease or “dog flu” generally last somewhere between one and three weeks, depending on which particular pathogen or combination of pathogens are causing the illness. The length of time that your dog is unwell will also depend on their underlying state of health. So very young or very elderly dogs, or those who have other underlying health issues, may be more severely affected and their signs will tend to last longer.

How do you treat dog flu?

There is no specific treatment for flu-like signs in dogs. Treatment will largely be what is known as supportive. Supportive care means that treatment will focus on treating symptoms as they arise and waiting for your dog’s immune system to fight off the infection.

Most cases of canine infectious respiratory disease, or “dog flu”, are caused by viruses, against which antibiotics have no effect. Antibiotics are only used if a secondary bacterial infection has developed. This happens when the virus has weakened the dog’s natural defences enabling bacteria to take hold, and often results in more severe symptoms. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may be used to help reduce fever and to control any painful symptoms, such as a sore throat. If your dog is off their food and becoming dehydrated, intravenous fluids may be advised but this is rarely necessary.

Is there a dog flu going around in 2020?

There were a significant number of cases of dog flu in the USA and China in 2019. Currently the canine influenza virus that causes dog flu in the truest sense of the word is not a problem in the UK or the rest of Europe. But it is likely that we will start to see cases of canine influenza virus infection in the future, so veterinary surgeons remain vigilant. Canine infectious respiratory disease caused by other pathogens is always present in the UK and, from time to time, will flare up and a surge in the number of cases will be seen.

Is dog flu contagious to humans?

Dog flu or canine infectious respiratory disease is not contagious to humans and equally humans cannot spread human respiratory disease to dogs. Having said that, it is highly contagious between dogs and is readily passed on by coughing, sneezing or barking.

Are there dog flu treatments that I can give at home ?

There are no treatments that you can safely give your dog without consulting a veterinary professional first. Many cases will be mild and will not require veterinary treatment, but it is always better to seek veterinary advice at the earliest opportunity.

Is my dog shaking from dog flu?

Dogs will shake for a number of reasons. If, in addition to shaking, your dog has flu-like symptoms, there are two main reasons why they might be shaking. They may have a fever and just as we may feel shivery when we have a high temperature, dogs do too. Another explanation may be that they are in pain. Symptoms that we associate with flu include a sore throat and a headache. It is likely that dogs will suffer these symptoms too although for obvious reasons we cannot be sure.

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