Dog flu, or canine influenza, is a rare but life-threatening condition for vulnerable dogs. Cases of dog flu tend to flare up in clusters every few years. Most recently, there was an outbreak this year in Michigan that spread to more than 100 affected dogs. Fortunately, so long as you take the necessary precautions, there’s really no reason to be worried. Here is what we think you should know about protecting your pet dog from the flu.


Get Your Dog Vaccinated

The best thing you can do is to get your dog vaccinated. One of the reasons why dog flu is relatively rare is because effective vaccinations exist and because most animal travel requires vaccinations. This is one of the things the veterinarian should do when you bring the dog in to get a health certificate. Even if the dog isn’t coming along for the adventure, be sure to get the dog vaccinated if you plan on boarding the pet. And this isn’t the only thing to watch out for. Being around large numbers of dogs in a confined space is a big risk factor. Being around large numbers of animals from high-risk species (especially birds and horses) is another risk factor. Think twice about traveling to a place that’s known to have an active outbreak of dog flu. Finally, very young, older, and snub-nosed breeds are also more susceptible to getting canine influenza.

It’s never a bad idea to get your dog vaccinated, but especially if they fall into one of these groups, we strongly recommend it.


Don’t Wait Too Long to Visit the Vet

Just as it is with humans, it is very rare but not impossible for a dog to contract the flu even after getting vaccinated. The virus may mutate, and the vaccine may not be effective against the new strain. And just like humans, it can be hard to diagnose the flu at first. Canine influenza and kennel cough are virtually impossible to tell apart at first. While most strains tend to be fatal for dogs in only about 10 percent of cases, this may not be true for the next mutation, it may not be true if your dog is vulnerable, and it may not be true if you ignore the problem and assume it will eventually go away on its own.

Again, you don’t need to be overly worried, so long as you’re proactive about getting the vaccine and following up if any symptoms do emerge.


Basic Information about Canine Influenza

More than just the steps to protect your particularly beloved pet, you might also be interested in some of the global concerns about canine influenza. Until relatively recently, many experts thought that dogs were largely resistant to the flu. And it’s true that the dog flu is less common than avian, equine, and even human influenza. But since 2004 in which a group of greyhounds became infected at a Florida racetrack, there have been more outbreaks and many now question just how far this resistance extends. Moreover, the increasing frequency of outbreaks gives additional credence to the notion that dogs are “mixing vessels.” Species that serve as “mixing vessels” are species that can contract, mutate, and then pass on new influenza strains to other species, while suffering relatively little harm to their own species.

So, along with protecting your own pet, getting dogs vaccinated and avoiding high-risk environments can help protect your dog, your family, other people, and other species from the next pandemic.