What is dog flu?
You are probably aware of the influenza virus and (hopefully) have received the vaccination. Did you know that dogs are susceptible to influenza? Canine influenza virus or CIV is a particularly virulent strain this year. Typically, dog flu is found during flu season in geographically specific locations, however this year it has been reported in at least 46 states! This doesn’t mean that there is an outbreak in every state, just that there was at least one reported case. This is noteworthy because it’s unusual for it to be so widespread.
How is it spread?
Canine influenza is spread much like human influenza, through droplet contamination. This includes sneezing, barking, close contact with a sick dog, playing with the same toys and even from surfaces that remain contaminated after the dog has left. Dogs use their nose primarily and sniffing other dogs faces, toys, or contaminated surfaces can spread the virus easily.
How can I prevent dog flu?
The best way to prevent dog flu is to get vaccinated. Your vet should offer a vaccine to both known strains of canine influenza and if he/she doesn’t, they can tell you where to find someone to administer it. Another way to prevent dog flu is by limiting exposure to other dogs. Boarding facilities, dog parks and other places your dog is exposed to other canines are risks for your dog during flu season. Very young, old or dogs with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk for canine influenza. Less than 10% of canines infected will die from the disease and these populations carry increased risk of death. As with human influenza, some dogs can get a more severe form of the virus and are at risk of complications from pneumonia.
What does this mean for pet sitters?
If you offer boarding, either in your home or a kennel, you’ll have a high risk of transmitting canine influenza to your other clients or your own pets. Even drop-in dog walking and visits carry a risk of passing the virus on to your other clients. Be aware of the signs of influenza, which are very similar to the symptoms of human influenza (lethargy, fever, coughing). Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands between visits. If you own a kennel or board in your home, sanitize between each dog with a virus-killing solution, like diluted bleach or Lysol. Consider getting your own pets vaccinated and recommend to your clients that they obtain the shot as well.
Note: While there isn’t a strain of dog flu that can affect humans as yet, it can infect cats.