Canine influenza virus (CIV) causes a disease in dogs that looks very much like the flu in people. Typical symptoms include coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, lethargy and a poor appetite. These symptoms make canine flu indistinguishable from the other causes like kennel cough without diagnostic testing. Most dogs recover from CIV infections with only symptomatic care (i.e. dog cough suppressants), but for a small percentage of individuals that develop secondary pneumonia, canine flu can be deadly.
Influenza infections in people and dogs are not identical. For example, the specific type of virus that infects dogs does not cause disease in people. Only rarely can people infect their dogs with human flu viruses. Also, influenza in dogs is not a seasonal problem, like it is in people. But vaccines against both human and dog flu viruses are available, which raises the question – should you vaccinate your dog?
Not every dog needs to be protected against the flu. Dogs that are housed in close contact with one another are at the highest risk. So if your dog is boarded, goes to a professional groomer, or attends doggy day care or dog shows, vaccination might be in his best interest. Infections are also frequently diagnosed in dogs that have spent time in shelters or pet stores. Interestingly, going to dog parks does not seem to increase the risk of canine flu infection. Some parts of the country, such as Colorado, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania see higher rates of the disease. However, canine flu has been diagnosed in 30 states and Washington DC.
Talk with your veterinarian about whether or not your dog should be vaccinated against canine flu.