Canine Influenza: What You Need to Know

By May 11, 2015Dog Health


There has been a lot of talk in the media, lately, about the outbreak of Canine Influenza, or “Dog Flu” in the Chicago area, and other parts of the Midwest. We’ve received several calls from concerned owners, wondering how they can protect their dogs.  So, here’s what you need to know.

What is Canine Influenza?

Canine influenza is a highly contagious disease that affects the  respiratory system and is caused by the Type A influenza virus.  There are two strains in the United States that can cause illness in dogs.

  • H3N8 This strain originated in horses and was eventually identified in racing greyhounds in 2004.  It now seems to only be found in dogs.  There is a vaccine for this strain, for dogs that are at high risk of exposure (boarding, grooming, showing).
  • H3N2 This is the new strain of influenza that has been affecting dogs in Chicago, Indiana and Wisconsin.  H3N2 is originally an Asian strain of flu that, has never been seen in the United States before.  The H3N2 strain has been known to infect cats, too, but there have been no reports of any cats becoming ill in this outbreak.  At this point there is no vaccine for this strain.

How is Canine Influenza Spread?

Canine influenza is spread through respiratory secretions that become airborne with coughing and sneezing.  The virus can also be spread via contaminated toys, clothing and food dishes.

Has the Outbreak in Chicago Extended into Michigan?

At this point, the outbreak appears to be limited to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.  While there have been no cases confirmed in Michigan,  that could change at any time. **UPDATE as of 5/20/15 there are 3 confirmed cases in the state of Michigan.  2 dogs in Kent county (Grand Rapids area) and 1 in Macomb county.

What are the Symptoms?

Dogs infected with either strain of influenza virus can have the following symptoms: Coughing; sneezing; clear, changing to yellow-green, nasal discharge; loss of appetite; difficult or rapid breathing; lethargy.  If your dog shows any of these signs, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

About 20% of dogs never show symptoms of the disease, but they can still infect other dogs.  Most will experience mild to moderate symptoms, that will clear their system pretty quickly.  A small number will have more severe symptoms, leading to pneumonia and potentially, death.

How Serious is Canine Influenza?

While both strains are very contagious, most dogs will clear the infection with little difficulty.  In the current outbreak of H3N2, nearly 1,100 dogs have become ill and 6 have died.

How is Canine Influenza Diagnosed and Treated?

Canine influenza is diagnosed using nasal swabs and/or blood antibody tests. Treatment consists mainly of supportive care: IV fluids to treat dehydration and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections.

How Can I Protect My Dog?

  • Keep your pet out of high-risk situations, as much as possible, especially if your dog is young, old, or has any condition that would compromise their immune system. High risk situations would include any place where large numbers of dogs would be together, like shelters, dog parks, boarding facilities, dog shows, and grooming facilities.
  • There is a vaccine for the H3N8 strain of Canine Influenza, though it doesn’t seem to be very protective for the H3N2 strain.  If you are concerned about your dog’s risk of exposure, one of our veterinarians can help you decide if vaccinating would be recommended.

I Think My Dog Has Canine Influenza, What Should I Do?

  • Seek veterinary care immediately.  The sooner treatment starts, the better the chance of recovery.
  • Call ahead to let your veterinarian know you are coming.  The veterinary staff needs to prepare for a potentially contagious patient.
  • Upon arrival at the veterinary hospital, leave your dog out in the car until the staff is ready, so as to decrease the chance of contaminating any healthy pets in the waiting room.
  • Keep your dog separated from other dogs until they are fully recovered.

Can I Catch the Flu from My Dog?

No cases of human infection have been seen with either strain of the influenza virus.  However, cats can potentially be infected with the new H3N2 strain.

This influenza outbreak has been scary for dog owners and veterinarians, alike. But, knowledge, risk assessment, and proper precautions can go a long way in easing fears and helping to keep your pet healthy.

If you have any questions about Canine Influenza, please call us.  We’re happy to address any of your concerns.

Swartz Creek Veterinary Hospital (810)635-4015