Signs Your Dog May Have the Flu

May 18, 2015 Updated: May 19, 2015

There’s a lot of talk about bird flu, swine flu, and of course human flu, but your dog can get the flu too, and it’s just as miserable.

The signs your dog has the flu are similar to humans. You can expect a cough, runny nose, lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia and death. However, some dogs don’t show any signs of illness, but if they are infected, they can infect others.

There are tests for canine influenza virus (CIV), which your veterinarian can order if needed.

Because the disease is still relatively new (it’s only been around since 2004), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that all dogs are susceptible to infection—and the disease is highly contagious. 

It is transmitted between dogs through direct contact with respiratory secretions, which could be airborne via coughing or sneezing, or could be left on objects like clothes, toys, a fire hydrant, or a human hand. Since the virus can’t live for long in the environment, usually dogs have to be in close proximity to infect another dog, which means the flu spreads most readily in kennels, doggy day care, dog parks, and shelters.

Treating CIV in dogs is similar to flu treatment for humans. Mostly it just has to run its course, which can last 10 to 30 days.

Good supportive care is also recommended to help your dog’s immune system do its work. Keep them warm and comfortable, allow them to rest, and ensure proper nutrition and hydration too. You can use cough suppressants if needed, and antibiotics will be prescribed if there’s a secondary infection. Most important is to isolate your dog from other dogs.

There are no known cases of dog flu transmission to humans, but the CDC warns that since influenza viruses are constantly mutating, it certainly could. And whenever a new virus enters the human population, with no natural immunity against it, there’s the risk it could turn into a pandemic. Given human proximity to dogs, this would be a real concern if it happened. 

“For this reason, CDC and its partners are monitoring the canine influenza H3N8 and H3N2 viruses (as well as other animal influenza viruses) closely,” the CDC says on its website. 

A dog flu outbreak sickened more than 1,000 dogs in the Midwest earlier this year, mostly in the Chicago area, including six fatalities. New cases were reported in the last week in the Houston area and in Atlanta, Georgia. The University of Georgia Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories confirmed that the infected dog had been in contact with other dogs at “a Metro-Atlanta boarding facility,” so they have issued a warning to other dog owners.