When flu season rolls around, anyone who’s heard coughing or blowing their nose is suspect. Are their cheeks ruddy with fever or flushed from the cold? Is that a hoarse voice because they smoke or because they’re coming down with the flu? If you’ve ever been down with the flu, you know it’s truly awful. While you’re practically dying in bed, it’s likely your dog is enjoying the extra time bundled up next to you. Are they at risk for catching your flu, though?
Can Dogs Catch the “Human” Flu?
Thankfully, the influenza virus that makes humans so ill is not typically contagious to dogs. While there were cases of dogs catching the H1N1 virus and dying, this isn’t something you see from the typical strains of influenza that go around every winter.
There is a very small chance your dog could contract the virus from you, but this is so rare that it’s almost never seen. Dogs that are actually susceptible to the virus would have to be severely immunocompromised.
What’s This “Dog Flu” Then?
Since 2006, dog influenza has grown in leaps and bounds. It started in animal shelters and quickly spread like wildfire to kennels and doggy daycares. The dog flu (CIVH3N2 and CIVH3N8) is 100 percent specific to dogs, and humans have no risk of catching it. Canine flu is very similar to the human flu because it causes a severe upper respiratory tract infection. It’s considered a “social disease”, so your dog is at higher risk if they were a rescue dog or in a shelter, they are boarded in kennels, or they attend doggy daycare. It’s very contagious, so even healthy dogs are at high risk of contracting it if they haven’t been vaccinated. The virus is transmitted from dog to dog, from human to dog, and from objects (bowls, toys, leashes, blankets, etc) to dogs.
Signs of Canine Influenza
The symptoms of the canine flu (not human flu) are:
- Low grade fever (around 103 degree Fahrenheit)
- Appetite loss
- Cough, either very dry (and often confused for kennel cough) or very wet with mucus production
- Runny nose that starts with clear discharge and progresses to a thick yellow or pink-tinged discharge
If your dog shows these symptoms after going to a public area (even a dog park), contact your vet. Since this is so contagious, it’s important you don’t bring them directly into the vet’s office and risk exposing other dogs. The staff may ask you to bring them in through the back or ask you to carry your dog straight into an exam room.
Treating the Canine Flu
If your dog contracts the canine flu, it is treatable, but it is dangerous for puppies, seniors, and immunocompromised dogs. There isn’t a treatment for this illness, and even though humans get Tamiflu for their flu, no such medication has been developed for dogs. A mild infection can probably be treated at home, but this is only at your vet’s discretion. If your dog’s infection progresses, they may need hospitalization for IV fluids and other supportive care.
Dog Flu Shots
There is a flu vaccine for dogs to help protect them against the virus. It doesn’t completely prevent your dog from contracting it, but it does greatly minimize the chances. If they do get the flu even with the vaccine, then it’s likely their infection will be a mild one.
Remember that while the flu virus has the same name between species, that doesn’t mean they’re the same virus. The human flu is not transmittable to dogs, just like the canine flu is not transmittable to humans. If you’re very sick and you notice your dog is also sick, it’s probably coincidental and unrelated, but you should still check in with your veterinarian anyways.