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Canine flu: a growing threat in some places

Updated on January 1, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


And There's A Vaccine For Them, Too

Canine flu is truly a disease of the new millennium, although it’s similar to one that’s been around for almost 50 years. And when it appeared on the scene, it caused somewhat of a stir in the scientific community because it was considered by experts to be a newly emerging pathogen in the dog population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called it “a very rare event of considerable scientific interest with regards to understanding influenza virus transmission across species barriers.”

The first diagnosis of canine influenza was in 2004 and it seemed to be confined to greyhound race tracks and racing dogs. But in the spring of 2005 the CDC revealed evidence that the disease was now among companion dogs. This was documented through samples collected by shelters, boarding kennels, humane societies and veterinarians from animals suspected of carrying the disease.

Canine influenza (back on the block we just called it A H3N8 influenza virus), which is not a human virus, by the way, appears similar to a flu strain that affects horses.

However this strain is considered a new dog-specific lineage of H3N8.

Researchers believe that at some point the virus mutated and found the canine species to be hospitable.

So now we just have to hope that it doesn't further mutate and find other species, including our own, hospitable.

The good news is there’s an approved vaccine available for dog flu.

Of course, “vaccinations” has become a dirty word in some circles, so some owners may opt out of the shot for their dogs.

All dog owners should be aware of the symptoms so that they can alert their vet early on in case it is, indeed, canine influenza.

The first symptom is a cough reminiscent of kennel cough, which is a dry cough, but dogs can also experience a soft moist cough instead.

There's likely to be a secondary bacterial infection that will cause a nasal discharge, but that is easily and successfully treated with an antibiotic.

And there may be a low-grade fever. Dogs with a more severe case of the flu will have a high fever and may experience heavy breathing.

CDC officials believe that canine influenza is an airborne disease and that physical contact between dogs is not necessary for the virus to spread. So far, there's no indication that it can be spread from dogs to humans.


Dogs can contract the disease from a number of sources.

Places where many dogs visit or gather, such as dog parks, kennels, shelters, groomers, day care, etc. would seem likely venues. Does that mean you should avoid those places? That's a call you'll have to make.

Obviously, the more exposure your dog has to other dogs, the greater the risk. The CDC advises that you take "reasonable precautions." Check with your vet at the first sign of a respiratory condition and keep your eyes and ears open for news accounts of an outbreak in your area.

If you stick with groomers, kennels and other services that you're familiar and comfortable with, you're probably doing as much as you can, beyond the vaccination, to protect your dog from contracting the flu. It would certainly be reasonable to ask if they isolate dogs that appear sick.

If you have more than one dog, and one of them develops respiratory symptoms, isolate the other dog right away, and contact your veterinarian so you can get a diagnosis and start treatment if necessary. It would be helpful for your vet to know if the dog has been boarded, groomed or socialized with other dogs within the past month.


If you're considering adopting from a shelter you shouldn't necessarily let the prospect of canine flu change that. You might ask some questions, though, that you would not have ordinarily thought to ask.

Find out how they isolate dogs that appear sick, if they've recently accepted dogs from areas where there's been an outbreak, and if incoming dogs are quarantined for a period of time before being allowed to mingle with the rest of the shelter population. You might also ask if they've had any cases of canine flu and if so, how those cases turned out.

Who ever thought the time would come when you had to write a note to the doggy day care center: "Please excuse Boomer from today's session. He's home with the flu."


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