RV Pet Vet: Can dogs (and cats) get the flu?

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    Ask the RV Vet

    With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
    YourRVvet@gmail.com

    This week, I was asked this question: “Here we are in the midst of a bad flu epidemic. Can dogs get the flu, too?” The short answer is yes. The better answer: Yes, they can, but they can’t catch it from you, and they can’t give it to you.

    Dogs have their own version of influenza. And it’s highly contagious.


    There are two strains of dog influenza, labeled H3N8 and H3N2. Does H3N2 look familiar? That’s right; It’s the same name as the human flu now causing problems. There are only minor differences between the dog and human version.

    The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitors the spread of dog flu very carefully to see if it can “jump” to humans. That’s because the dog flu exists because it was spread to them by other species’ flu strains. The H3N8 strain started in horses and spread to greyhounds in 2004.

    H3N2 was an avian (bird) virus first reported in South Korea in 2007. It jumped to humans, and then, in April 2015, there was an outbreak in dogs at a Chicago shelter. It’s unknown how the virus got there.

    H3N2 can also infect cats. There was an outbreak in cats at a shelter in Indiana. Typically what most people call “cat flu” is really caused by two other viruses that are not influenza viruses: feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. There is a vaccine for both, typically given as part of a feline vaccine protocol. There was another influenza outbreak in cats in New York City in December of 2016. That outbreak was caused by yet another flu strain, H7N2, which is an avian virus. But, for now, influenza is rarely reported in cats.

    Regardless of the strain, infected dogs show symptoms similar to “kennel cough” (infectious tracheobronchitis). In the milder form of the flu, the dog may not show any signs or may cough or sneeze for a few days with no fever.

    Symptoms of the “typical” canine influenza case include a bad cough, sneezing, lethargy, fever, lack of appetite, and maybe some ocular (eye) discharge. In the worst case of influenza, dogs may have all the above symptoms, and the infection can lead to pneumonia and possibly death. 

    Treatment is mainly supportive care: cough medications, antibiotics if pneumonia is suspected, rest, proper hydration, proper nutrition. Recovery can take 2-4 weeks.

    Because canine influenza is so highly contagious, infected dogs MUST be quarantined for 3-4 weeks.

    So, how at risk is your dog?
    Much like with people, the virus spreads in areas where dogs congregate: boarding kennels, shelters, grooming shops, dog shows, and … dog parks. Yikes!

    MY DOGS DODGED A BULLET
    We were in an RV park in Wisconsin last year. A couple had two show dogs. The dogs would be off with a handler for weeks at a time, return for a few weeks, and leave again. I talked to the owners when we first met and mentioned the flu and asked if their dogs had been vaccinated. They had not, but they said they planned to get it done.

    A week or so later they said the dogs had been vaccinated. To my knowledge, they did NOT get a booster three weeks later (see vaccine recommendations below). I then heard through the RV campground grapevine that one of the dogs had canine influenza. I contacted the owners right away and yes, it did. They had taken it to an emergency clinic the night before because of it.

    The dog was in home quarantine for 30 days. During that time, its housemate got the flu, and a dog that had been in  the RV next to mine also contacted it. Before the original dog was diagnosed, the people next door let their dog play with it. The wife of my neighbor left a few days later to return home to Minnesota. 

    The owners of the show dogs did not make an effort to tell their neighbors about their dog’s flu despite the fact that their dogs had played with several other dogs. I told my neighbor about it, and he called his wife and told her what to look for. Sure enough, about four days later, their dog had all the symptoms. She called their vet, who wisely told her to bring the dog to the clinic but to keep him in the car.

    The vet and his assistant came out to the car, examined the dog and drew blood. They dispensed medications and told her to keep him quarantined. The vet and his assistant did not return to the clinic before showering and changed their clothes. The next day, they told the owners their dog had canine influenza.

    MY POINT: If my neighbor had not known about the infected dog at the campground, his dog would have gone into the clinic in Minnesota, and very likely would have infected any dogs, and possibly cats, in the waiting room. Then, the whole animal hospital would have been contaminated, and would very likely have had to shut down for several weeks. The vet in Minnesota was wise and avoided being at the beginning of an epidemic.

    The dark orange shows states where both strains of dog flu are being reported. The yellow states are only reporting one strain. The gray states have not reported any cases. Source: DogFlu.com

    So should you get your dog vaccinated? My advice is to always first ask your veterinarian. He/she may never have seen a case of canine influenza because at least for now, there tends to be “clusters” of dogs and cats infected. My second advice is that if your dog goes to any of the places where the disease might likely spread, like dog parks, think seriously about getting your dog vaccinated. At my clinic we required all boarded dogs to be vaccinated.

    But which strain to vaccinate against? There are vaccines against both H3N8 and H3N2. At this time, it is the H3N2 strain that seems to be making the rounds at dog shows and is the strain that shows up more often. 

    A useful resource is the “Canine Influenza: Pet Owner’s Guide”  on the American Veterinary Medical Association website. 

    Do you have a question for Dr. Deanna?
    Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com 

    Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for a little more than 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She pulls a fifth wheel with her 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs (3 Chihuahuas: Tootie, Chiquita, and BooBoo, and a Yorkie, Janie), and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot named Toby. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. Her hobbies include sewing, especially quilting, crafts, reading and writing. 

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    Gerri Lilly
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    Gerri Lilly

    Very interesting and helpful article on dog influenza. Thank you. My dog does not go to dog parks and we don’t board her but now I know what to look out for.