Dogs get the flu?
Just like me and you, dogs do get the flu. If you don’t want your dog to get the new H3N2 flu, don’t take him where other dogs gather. These places include the vet clinic, doggy day care, kennels, or dog parks. Just as when we get the flu, we can’t avoid some places, such as work and grocery shopping. But we can avoid the health club, and the one place you can avoid taking your dog to avoid the flu is the dog park.
The new strain of flu in dogs, H3N2, is believed to have come to this country from Asia, and it is not a variant of an old strain or a mutation of a flu virus that has been around awhile. This new virus is its own virus. The H3N2 virus has been identified to have sickened over 1,000 dogs in four states in the Midwest.
The new dog flu behaves very much like the flu in humans. It has an incubation period of three days, meaning that your dog may have the virus before showing symptoms of coughing, fever, runny nose, loss of appetite, and general yuckiness. It is like any human flu in two more ways: it might last up to two weeks, and it is rarely lethal. So far, only six dogs of the documented 1,000 infected have died. As with all infections, the deaths often occur in animals who are old, weak, or have compromised immune systems.
Human flu is spread through direct or indirect contact with the virus: handshakes, doorknobs, sneezing in a crowded elevator. Dogs may be more unsanitary than humans, but they don’t engage in much of the behavior that leads to the spread of viruses—except one. When you put dogs together, they don’t know better than to avoid direct nose to nose contact. Dogs “shake hands” by nose to nose contact, and that is where the flu virus is just waiting to make the leap from dog to dog.
The dog park is the most contagious because the dogs are left to run free and do what they love to do. They meet new dogs, “shake hands,” and spread disease. At the vet clinic and kennel, the H3N2 virus may be present, but you can avoid the direct dog-to-dog contact that is most responsible for the spread of disease. This is impossible at the dog park, which is why this is the place to avoid most if you want to prevent your dog from getting the flu.
The new flu virus is not a nationwide epidemic. But dogs travel, and so do viruses. Read up on the progress of the H3N2 virus, or ask your vet about it the next time your dog is in the vet clinic.
Most of all, if you are concerned about the transfer of disease, avoid places such as the dog park where wanton and reckless nose-to-nose contact occurs between curious canines, and malicious viruses.