Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by viruses that were first detected in the United States in 2004. The initial virus (H3N8), spread to affect dogs in nearly all the states and the District of Columbia. In 2015, a new strain of virus (H3N2) was identified following an outbreak of illness among dogs in the Chicago area. Now Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, and North Dakota are the only states that do not have reported cases of dog flu.
So, how can you protect your pets when you travel together? First, it’s important to understand how the disease is transmitted and where your dog is most likely to become infected.
Like human flu, canine influenza is spread through droplets containing respiratory secretions when dogs cough, sneeze, and bark. Licking, sniffing, and sharing objects like food and water bowls, toys, leashes, or collars also allow the virus to pass from dog to dog. Even petting an infected dog and then touching your own dog before washing your hands can make your dog sick.
The virus is hardy and can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on hands for 12 hours. And, unlike human flu, dog flu is not seasonal. On top of all that, dogs are most contagious during the virus’ incubation period – before they start showing symptoms of the infection – and only 80% of infected dogs show symptoms at all, though they can still spread the virus.
The good news is, despite its frequent appearance the news, canine influenza is not widespread. “Outbreaks” usually involve a tiny percentage of the overall dog population in an area, and with few simple adjustments you can seriously reduce your dog’s chances of being infected.
Dogs are most likely to catch the flu in places where pets congregate, so you can protect your dog by avoiding dog parks and beaches, day care locations, kennels and boarding facilities, and groomers. Also, your dog can contract the virus by drinking from public water dishes if it’s been used by a dog with the virus, or being touched by anyone who’s had contact with an infected dog. Carrying a clean collapsible bowl and water bottle and asking strangers not to pet your dog can help prevent transmission.
The symptoms of canine influenza are similar to those of kennel cough – a dry or soft, moist cough that persists for 10 to 21 days despite medications like antibiotics and cough suppressants. Dogs may also experience sneezing, be lethargic, or have a decreased appetite. In some cases, you’ll see discharge from your dog’s nose and/or eyes, and she may be running a fever. While most dogs make a complete recovery with basic supportive care, a small number have developed pneumonia, which can be deadly, so call your veterinarian right away if your dog shows any symptoms. If an office visit is required, your vet will likely ask that your dog remain in the car rather than the waiting area, to avoid exposing other dogs.
Related Article: How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Fever
Before you and your furry travel buddy take off on your next road trip, talk to your veterinarian about the areas you’ll be visiting and how prevalent canine influenza is there. Discuss any plans you have to use a boarding or day care facility for your pet, whether you commonly visit dog parks and beaches, and any health issues that may affect your dog’s natural immune response to the virus.
There is a vaccine for canine influenza that may reduce the severity and duration of the illness if your dog does contract the virus, but it requires two shots administered two to four weeks apart, followed by annual boosters. And vaccinations come with their own risks and side effects, so be sure to weigh all the pros and cons.
Additional information about canine influenza can be found at:
Disclosure: I am not a veterinarian. Canine influenza is a condition I’m learning about to protect my dogs as we travel, and I hope you can benefit from this information as well. If you suspect your pet has canine influenza, please seek veterinary care immediately.