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Pup feeling under the weather? It could be canine influenza

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If it wasn’t enough to have to worry about you and your family getting sick this winter – with the so-called “tripledemic” of flu, COVID and RSV going around – now you may need to keep an eye on Fido, too.

Recently an outbreak of canine influenza hit Charlotte, N.C., and shut down several dog boarding facilities there. Now, veterinarians in Waco say a handful of dogs in Central Texas have also tested positive for the virus, and suspect a small outbreak in the region may be possible.

While the flu may make dogs uncomfortable, the good news is that it’s rarely fatal, according to Dr. Lori Teller, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She spoke with the Standard about how to keep your dog healthy, and what to do if you suspect they might have the flu. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What is canine influenza? Is it, like the name suggests, similar to the flu that humans get? 

Lori Teller: It is very similar to the flu that humans get. Fortunately, it is not contagious to humans and only affects our dogs. But it is a respiratory illness that can make dogs feel bad. They may be sluggish, they will sneeze and cough, may have some discharge from their nose, their appetite may be somewhat depressed, and they really just feel pretty yuck.

Is it a fatal illness, or no?

Fatal is rare. We don’t typically see dogs die from the flu. They get pretty sick. They just don’t feel good. And then it’ll run its course over 1 to 2 weeks and they’ll generally bounce back to normal. Dogs that may be very young, very old, have other underlying illnesses are more susceptible to complications like pneumonia and may have to be hospitalized, put on fluids, those kinds of things. And so it’s rare for a dog to actually die from canine influenza.

Well, that’s good to hear. But some of the symptoms that you’re mentioning, how can you distinguish some of those from, say, other issues like kennel cough or allergies, those sorts of things? 

You can’t necessarily. They can look alike. Kennel cough dogs generally don’t feel quite as bad, but of course, it’s a spectrum. And so the only way to truly know if it’s canine influenza versus another cause of respiratory illness is to test.

Is this a seasonal virus? Any reason to believe this year could be worse than usual? Or do you suspect it’s just getting more attention? You know, people on the alert for viruses like COVID and RSV.

It does not tend to be seasonal in our dog population. But I do think we are on hyper alert for any kind of viral outbreak, whether it’s human or dogs or other animals. Where we see it happen is where dogs tend to congregate. So dog day care, boarding facilities, dog parks, all of those kinds of things where dogs are in close contact with other dogs and that’s where it tends to spread.

Well, you know, tis the season for taking the dog to the kennel and all. With so many people traveling for the holidays, how can people protect their pets? 

There is a vaccine for canine influenza. It doesn’t necessarily completely prevent the illness, but it definitely tempers the signs. So dogs don’t get nearly as sick. They don’t feel as bad, and they recover much more quickly. And any dog who is going to be boarding or going to doggie day care, those kinds of things, their owners should definitely talk to their veterinarian about vaccinating for canine influenza.

Is this something dogs typically get every year? I am talking about the vaccine. Or do you have to ask for it specifically?

It’s not part of the core vaccine series because certainly dogs that are never in contact with other dogs don’t necessarily need it. So you do need to ask for it. And it starts out as a series of two so that your dog will get one and then come back 2 to 4 weeks later and get a booster. And then after that it is an annual vaccine.

Lori, some practical stuff for pet owners: if your dog does get sick, what should you do? Is it wise to take them to the vet or do they recover on their own? Is there anything you can do to comfort an animal who may be suffering? What would you say? 

There are definitely medications that can be used to help alleviate the symptoms and help your dog feel better. So it is worth talking to your veterinarian and when you call to schedule that appointment, let them know that you have concerns that your dog may have canine influenza or kennel cough because they’re going to want to immediately get your dog into a room and isolate it from other dogs that may be in the facility to avoid spreading it. Or they may want to come out to the car and look at your dog. So let them know. But there are medications available just like we have things for flu and colds. But don’t give your dog the human medicine. Some of those can be really toxic. But do talk to your veterinarian about things that you can do to help your dog feel better.

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