Sick like a dog? Beware of canine flu

Learning to mind your dog's manners
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It first struck California in 2015, after infecting thousands of dogs in the Midwest.

What is this disease?

In short, the flu. More specifically, canine flu.

Now, before you start wondering if you could pass the flu on to your canine companion – or if you could catch it from your dog – rest assured the answer is no. Human and canine influenza are very distinct viruses, and so far there has never been a case of human-to-animal or animal-to-human transmission.

However, like human flu, canine flu (“canine flu”) is a potentially serious and highly contagious illness. Since October is National Animal Safety and Protection Month, now is a good time to talk about this disease and what you can do to protect your pet.

Unless a dog has already contracted the flu and recovered, almost all exposed dogs will be infected. It can be spread when infected dogs cough, bark, sneeze, or when uninfected dogs come in contact with toys, food or water bowls, or other objects that an infected dog has used. Regardless of age or breed, all dogs are susceptible to the virus.

The disease is more likely to spread in situations where many dogs mix: dog parks and social events, dog daycares and boarding houses. Even if your dog is rather lonely, or if you rarely, if ever, ride him, it’s important to note that, because canine flu viruses are relatively new, dogs have no natural immunity to them.

The symptoms of canine flu are similar to those that humans are so familiar with. About 2-3 days after infection, your dog will develop a persistent cough, often accompanied by sneezing, runny nose and eyes, and fever. Most dogs will develop the milder form of the disease and recover within 2-3 weeks – but when the disease is severe, a dog will show clinical signs of pneumonia such as labored, rapid breathing and a fever that can reach 106 degrees. Now is the time to call your vet immediately, as these symptoms can literally be life threatening.

Many flu-like symptoms can be indicators of more serious illness, so even if you think your dog has “just” got the flu, it’s best to contact your veterinarian. This is especially true if your dog is very young, very old, or has a weakened immune system. Even a younger dog may need antibiotics to fight off secondary bacterial infections, or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the fever and that all-too-familiar pain and aches that we all felt when we were first struck by it. influenza.

Today there are canine flu shots that will reduce the severity of illness and the length of time a dog is sick. (Keep in mind, however, that while these vaccines help defend your dog against infections, nothing offers 100% protection.)

But should you give your dog a flu shot?

The best course of action is to talk to your vet about your dog’s lifestyle and the extent to which he is in close contact with a large number of other dogs. This will indicate if your dog is at a significant risk of exposure and will help you both decide if the vaccination is appropriate.

So, now that it’s October and time for your own flu shot, consider preparing for the possibility of a canine flu outbreak by talking to your vet and educating yourself about the disease. So far, it’s made its way through forty states – including California – so there’s a good chance it will raise its ugly head again and harm the health and happiness of our canine companions.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her cat Maine Coon Indy, and the unwavering spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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