Aching joints. Sore throat. Fever: The misery of flu is something most people are keen to avoid. Unfortunately, dogs can also suffer from flu. That said, it's important to know this is a dog-specific virus, so you won't pass flu to your dog or vice versa.
There's also a lot of misinformation and unnecessary alarm about dog flu. Yes, it is unpleasant, but the vast majority of dogs, after feeling poorly for a couple of weeks, go on to make a full recovery. Those hit hardest and at risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, are those are already weak due to ill health or being elderly.
However, this is a highly infectious virus that spreads readily dog to dog and even through indirect contact. The latter is when a dog sneezes or coughs on a surface, leaving behind contaminated droplets containing the virus. Then another dog sniffs and licks the surface and becomes infected
So what can you do to protect your pet?
Avoid Contact with Infected Dogs
The flu virus is never happier than when skipping from dog to dog, so take these simple steps to reduce the risk.
Avoid coughing dogs: The cough is a clue the dog has an infectious disease. Those clever viruses hide away in nasal and oral secretions, ready to jump from dog to dog when they cough. If there is a flu outbreak in your area, then keep away from places where dogs congregate. While no one wants to be paranoid about strange dogs, you're right to be cautious when they're coughing.
Practice responsible dog ownership: If your dog is unwell, keep them away from public places, doggy daycare, and the dog park, as they are a risk to others. If the dog needs to see a vet, tell them of your suspicions over the phone. They can then arrange for the dog to enter and leave through a separate exit, so as not to pose a risk to other patients.
Keep a Clean Environment
Virus Lurking on Surfaces: Know that a virus can hide on your hands, clothing, or footwear; on dog bowls, floors, or walls. Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands before handling your dog. If you've been near a dog with flu, change your clothes before greeting your pet. If you run a doggy daycare or place where dogs congregate wash, wash, wash all bowls, walls, floors, and surfaces on a daily basis.
Ask for Updates and Alerts: For those attending doggy daycare or using a dog walker, ask them to alert you if another client's dog has come down with dog flu. You may wish to keep your dog at home until the premises have been thoroughly disinfected.
Vet Visits: If there is a flu outbreak in your area and your dog has a routine vet visit scheduled, phone the vet to ask about their biosecurity. Ask what barriers they have in place to prevent staff or the clinic posing a risk of indirect transfer to your dog.
Vaccination and Healthcare
Consider Vaccination: Speak to your vet about the flu vaccine. This is not a 'core' vaccine and not given routinely, indeed your vet may need to order it in. Dogs at risk, such as the elderly, ill, or due to go into a boarding kennel will benefit most from the protection it offers.
Support your Dog's Immune System: Feed a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins, which support a healthy immune system. The latter is your dog's best defense against flu.
Your three main defenses against dog flu are avoiding direct contact, avoiding contaminated areas, and supporting a healthy immune system. But if all this fails, know this isn't a black and white infection, and it's not automatically serious.
The majority of dogs with the flu are unwell for 10 to 21 days and then recover. The big risk is complications such as pneumonia, when the dog's immune system can't cope and fails to fend off secondary bacterial infections.
In these circumstances, hospitalization for intensive care gives the dog a good shot at recovery. Your vet will keep the dog in an isolation kennel, so as to reduce the risk to others, with a dedicated team using barrier nursing techniques.
So while dog flu needs to be taken seriously, you are not helpless. Your actions make a material difference and reduce the risk to your dog. So keep cough-free with a few simple precautions. Barks and wags, everyone!