As Americans navigate the worst flu season in more than a decade, dogs across the country are facing flu outbreaks and symptoms like cough, fever and runny nose as well.
Known as “canine influenza,” or dog flu, the highly contagious virus is airborne and can spread through direct contact, nasal discharge through barking or coughing and contaminated surfaces like kennels and leashes, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Though the virus, which doesn't infect humans, can spread year-round, a surge in cases has occured recently—specifically with a strain of the flu known as H3N2. Veterinarians suggest the nationwide uptick is due to changes in people’s behaviors with Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed, reports the New York Times’ Emily Anthes.
Dog shelters that were previously vacant during the pandemic are now full. As more people travel and return to in-person work, dogs are spending more time together in kennels and daycare centers, which allows the canine influenza to spread easier. Increased holiday travel may also increase the surge in cases among pets, reports Maia Belay for Fox 8.
“One dog walks into a kennel and all the dogs walk out of the kennel with [dog flu],” Earle Rogoff, a veterinarian and owner of Orange Village Animal Hospital in Ohio, tells Fox 8. “If you’ve had your dog in a kennel or dog park or grooming with other dogs and three to five days later they start coughing, they get lethargic, show respiratory signs, then you definitely want to have them checked by a veterinarian.”
As a result of the spike in cases, veterinarians have taken to social media to warn people about the virus. Daycare centers for dogs have closed and some shelters have paused adoptions, per The New York Times. Operation Kindness, a dog shelter in Texas, halted adoptions after it saw 86 percent of the dogs at the center get infected mid-last month, according to the publication.
Lisa Lippman, director of virtual medicine at New York City's Bond Vet, tells USA TODAY’s Anna Kaufman that the main symptoms of canine influenza are coughing and sneezing, but other symptoms include fever, lethargy, eye secretions and lack of appetite.
Though the canine influenza doesn’t progress to severe illness in most dogs, some cases can be fatal and the virus can develop into pneumonia, reports WCNC Charlotte’s Chloe Leshner. Jill Pascarella, an emergency doctor at CARE animal hospital in North Carolina, tells WCNC Charlotte that the hospital is seeing multiple cases of the virus with some dogs being hospitalized and having to rely on oxygen to breathe.
“Typically, the respiratory viruses that we’d see would be a pretty self-limiting cough, more like a cold, and would just get better on its own and now we’re seeing it progress to pretty severe pneumonia in dogs,” Pascarella tells the publication. “The ones that need to come to the ER are the dogs who are not eating, are very lethargic, any respiratory distress.”
Most dogs that contract the virus typically recover in two to three weeks through care from their owners as well as antimicrobial treatments prescribed by veterinarians, reports USA TODAY. Dogs infected with canine influenza are most contagious throughout the two-to-four-day virus incubation period, and almost all dogs exposed will get sick, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. To reduce the spread of the virus, dogs showing cold or flu-like symptoms, as well as dogs exposed to known infected dogs, should be isolated.
Vaccines are available for the canine influenza, and experts are encouraging owners with dogs that have increased contact with other dogs to consider vaccination. Though the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, it can prevent dogs from contracting the virus and has the capacity to make the illness less severe, Lippman tells USA TODAY.
“If you have questions, call your veterinarian,” Rogoff tells Fox 8. “Dr. Google isn’t always accurate, and your veterinarian would be able to give you the best advice because they know you and they know your pet.”