Dog Flu Is Spreading Across Regions of the US — What to Know to Protect Your Pet

You're already worried about keeping yourself and your kids flu-free this year, on top of trying to avoid other quick-spreading illnesses, like norovirus and COVID-19. So we're sorry to add another family member to keep an eye out for, but this influenza season is even terrible for your dog. According to CBS News, cases of highly-contagious canine flu have been spreading in several parts of the US this winter, including Philadelphia, North Texas, and Minneapolis.

If you're unfamiliar with canine flu (or dog flu), it's described as a contagious respiratory disease "caused by specific Type A influenza viruses known to infect dogs," per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, all dogs are susceptible to infection and symptoms typically include reduced appetite, a cough, runny nose, and fever, according to the CDC. While most dogs will recover within weeks, others can develop bacterial infections that can also turn into severe illnesses or pneumonia. Few cases (around 10 percent, per the American Kennel Club) will result in fatality.

Here's what you need to know to protect your furry friend.

How Is Dog Flu Spread?

Canine flu spreads primarily through respiratory droplets of infected dogs (via sneezing or coughing) or through contact with contaminated surfaces, per the CDC. If your dog is coughing or showing signs of a respiratory infection, be sure to keep them away from other dogs or cats, who may be able to contract the virus, too. "Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease," the CDC states.

What Are Canine-Flu Symptoms?

Looking out for symptoms can be crucial in getting your dog the help it needs. "The symptoms of canine flu are coughing, mucous discharge from the nose and eyes, fever, and general lethargy or malaise," says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian and pet health expert on Rover's Dog People Panel. "Most dogs will recover, although canine influenza can be lethal in a small number of patients," he adds.

When Is It Time to Go to the Vet?

Any dog that is coughing, sneezing, or has nasal discharge should be taken to the veterinarian. "The symptoms of canine influenza can initially look very similar to kennel cough, but there is a laboratory test that can confirm the diagnosis," says Dr. Richter. "Dogs with influenza are frequently put on antibiotics to prevent and treat secondary bacterial infections. Animals with severe symptoms may need to be hospitalized and put on IV fluids while they are recovering."

What Is the Treatment for Canine Flu?

There is currently no cure for canine flu. But your pup's veterinarian should be able to prescribe medication for symptom relief. This might include pain relievers, cough suppressants, and appetite stimulants, the Washington Post reports.

Can Humans Get Dog Flu?

The CDC confirms there have been no cases of canine influenza in humans to date. But that's not to say there won't be in the future. "Influenza viruses are constantly changing and it is possible that a canine influenza virus could change so that it could infect people and spread easily between people," the CDC states. For that reason, the World Health Organization continues to keep an eye out for this type of transmission.

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Contagion?

If you live in a region that's experiencing a surge in cases, consider skipping the dog park for a while. Keeping your dog flu-free means avoiding large groups of dogs. "Indoor spaces with a lot of dogs, in particular, should be avoided if the dog is not vaccinated. Even dog parks are potentially sources of transmission," says Dr. Richter.

Is It Too Late to Get My Dog a Flu Shot?

It is absolutely not too late to vaccinate your dog, so make an appointment if your dog tends to be around other animals often. Getting the shot will help prevent disease transmission or, at least, lessen the symptoms if your pup is exposed. "If your dog is not in a high-risk environment, lives in an area of low disease prevalence, or has a previous history of vaccine reactions, you should consult with a veterinarian to determine what the best course of action should be," says Dr. Richter. While there is a risk, like with any other vaccine, he says the benefits of the shot outweigh "the potential consequences of contracting canine influenza."

— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones