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By Dr. Emily Wilson
The canine flu is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the canine influenza virus. It spreads fairly easily through direct contact with infected dogs, objects they have touched (a water bowl or toy, for example), or their coughing and sneezing. The virus can live on hands, clothing and other objects for up to 24 hours and stay in the air for up to a couple of days after contamination. Unfortunately, all dogs can be at risk if they are exposed to the virus. Canine flu was first reported in Florida and Illinois a few years ago, and two different strains have since been identified, H3N8 and H3N2. Cases have been confirmed (as of late January) in the Bay Area, including San Francisco.
We are advising pet parents to look out for signs in their pets that are very similar to the human flu:
Loss of appetite
Clear nasal discharge (that over time becomes thick mucus)
The canine influenza virus can last up to three weeks, and it is rarely life-threatening but it can make your pup feel pretty miserable for a couple of weeks! In severe cases, they may need hospitalization and supportive care.
Once a dog catches canine influenza, the virus must play its course, and it usually takes about 2-3 weeks before a dog fully recovers. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics for your dog if his/her flu infection evolves into something more serious like pneumonia.
For most mild cases of canine flu, it’s best to stick to the basics:
Lots of rest: Just like humans, the best way to get over the flu is tons of rest and relaxation. Your pup needs sleep to gain energy and fight the virus.
Good nutrition and fluids: Your pup needs plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Make sure your dog’s water bowls are completely filled and accessible throughout your home. Your vet may recommend integrating more wet foods into your flu-infected dog’s diet to increase his/her fluid intake.
Isolation: Flu-infected pups should be isolated to prevent further contamination and transmission of the virus. That means you may have to cancel your pup’s play dates for the next couple of weeks until they get better.
Extra TLC: There is no concrete evidence of humans contracting canine influenza so let’s show our flu-infected pups a little extra love and support. Give them plenty of pats and scratches!
The canine flu vaccine requires two injections given 2 – 4 weeks apart, and it will protect your dog against the most prevalent strains. You can also administer a booster every year. The side effects of the flu vaccine are the same as with any other vaccine: your dog may be sore and tired for 1-2 days, and in some rare cases, have an allergic reaction.
We recommend getting your dog vaccinated against the flu if they are in frequent direct contact with other dogs, especially dogs you don’t know. This means that if your dog spends time at doggie day care, dog parks, on group walks or in groomers or kennels, you should consider it. Some groomers and boarding facilities have begun to require the vaccine before admitting pets. We don’t recommend vaccinating dogs that are not at risk for the flu (they are mostly inside and do not interact with other dogs), ill, suffer from immune system diseases, or have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines.
If you are a Fuzzy member, please contact us on the Fuzzy app or our web chat to schedule a visit and we will administer the vaccine at home! If you’re not a member, you can get your dog vaccinated at the SPCA and other vet clinics.