Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a highly contagious, viral respiratory disease. First detected in the United States in 2004, the initial flu virus (H3N8), spread to dogs throughout the United States.
A new strain of virus (H3N2) was identified in 2015, following an outbreak among dogs in the Chicago area. Now Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, and North Dakota are the only states with no reported cases of dog flu.
So, how can you protect your pets when you travel together? First, you need to understand how the disease is transmitted and where dogs are most commonly infected.
Like human flu, canine influenza spreads when dogs cough, sneeze, and bark. Licking, sniffing, and sharing objects like food and water bowls 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. 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, dog flu is not widespread. “Outbreaks” usually involve a tiny percentage of the overall dog population in an area. And, with few simple adjustments to your travel plans, 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. The virus can also be contracted from public water dishes if they’ve been used by a dog with the virus. Carrying a clean collapsible bowl and water bottle for your dog removes that possibility. And being touched by anyone who’s had contact with an infected dog can give your dog pet flu. So simply ask strangers not to pet your pup.
The symptoms of dog flu 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. Pneumonia can be deadly, so call your veterinarian right away if your dog shows any symptoms. If an office visit is required, the vet might ask that your dog remain in the car rather than the waiting area to avoid exposing other dogs.
READ MORE ⇒ How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Fever
Before your next road trip, talk to your veterinarian about the prevalence of dog flu where you’ll be traveling. Discuss any plans to use a boarding or day care facility for your pet and whether you’ll be visiting dog parks and beaches. Also consider any health issues that could affect your dog’s natural immune response to the virus.
There is a vaccine for dog flu that may reduce the severity and duration of the illness. But you’ll have to plan ahead! 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 is available here:
Disclosure: I am not a veterinarian. Dog flu is a condition I’m learning about to protect my dogs as we travel. I hope you can benefit from this information as well. If you suspect your pet has canine influenza, please seek veterinary care immediately.
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