DOG FLU, EMERGENCY! Wait…really?

Dog with a bag of cold water on his head

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On May 2, Denison honors and celebrates hero dogs with a fun day at Heritage Park, with vendors, blessing of the dogs, food and even adoption events. There’s a parade with military hero theme, lots of contests like retrieving, dachshund races, obedience, dress-up, and talent. I’ve attended as a judge in the past, and it’s great fun for the entire family, including the dog.

I spoke with local veterinarian Dr. Clay Morris of Brakebill Veterinary Hospital about precautions when you take your pet out-and-about to such events. Very young, very old, and immunocompromised dogs are at most risk for contracting any infectious illness, so be sure your pooch is protected.

“Dogs don’t interact like people, riding the bus every day and going to work,” he says, so they’re not as likely to be exposed or transmit illness as people. Be sure your dog is protected against the most common dangers like Parvo and distemper with proper vaccinations.

What about dog flu? “We’ve had no cases at all, luckily,” says Dr. Morris. “Area veterinarians are certainly monitoring the situation.” He assured me that clients will be notified of any change in status but right now dog flu is not a concern in our area. “Specialists tell us the virus is a localized outbreak currently limited to the Chicago area.”

Of course, that’s good for us, not so good for Chicago pet parents. Here’s the information you need to know.


Approximately 1000 dogs have been affected by the Chicago-area outbreak of canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) caused by canine influenza. While it is serious for dogs that are affected, the news media has latched onto this “sexy” story and spread it farther than the virus itself is likely to be able to travel.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a contributor to, and other expert sources like Cornell University and its New York State Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, have shared basic information about this disease.


Just as with people, there are different kinds of flu that affect animals. Canine influenza A (H3N8) virus is closely related to a common flu virus that has been found in horses for more than 40 years. It’s thought that the virus mutated and became infectious to dogs, with first reported outbreak ten years ago in 2004 in Greyhounds. Today, H3N8 is considered a dog-specific canine flu.

The Chicago outbreak of dog flu is caused by a newer strain. This is the first appearance of  Influenza A H3N2 strain of the virus in North America; however, it was first detected in 2007 in dogs in South Korea.

It’s thought that this a “bird flu” adapted to affect dogs, and canine H3N2 virus has since been reported in China and Thailand where it reportedly can affect cats as well as dogs. However, studies indicate that neither virus transmits well to other companion animal species. Further, it is different from human seasonal H3N2 viruses. There have been no reports of dog-to-human transmission, and it is not considered contagious to people.


Dog flu is highly contagious between dogs. Nearly 100% of dogs exposed to the virus get it–but not all get sick. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids—sneezing, coughing, sniffing, licking.

Stress caused by travel, confinement or interaction with strange dogs, for example increases your dog’s susceptibility. “Environments that promote canine congregation – such as boarding facilities and dog parks – are also hot zones for various diseases,” says Dr. Mahaney.


Both strains of dog flu can cause high fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. Some dogs develop red or runny eyes, and in most cases, there’s a history of contact with other sick or “carrier” dogs.

  • MILD FORM: Dogs with mild symptoms may have a “wet” cough (resembling “kennel cough”) with nasal discharge. In mild cases, these signs last 10 to 30 days and usually go away on their own. Cough suppressants and/or antibiotics may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection exists. According to Cornell, some infected dogs won’t show signs at all (some experts say probably 20% are asymptomatic)—however, they are still contagious and can spread the disease.
  • SEVERE FORM: Symptoms may be more severe in cases caused by the H3N2 virus. Signs may be a high sudden fever (above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), followed by hemorrhagic pneumonia, coughing up blood and difficulty breathing. Illness can be complicated with bacterial pneumonia. Hospitalization with aggressive treatment with antibiotics, fluids are vital. Isolation to protect other dogs from contracting the disease is important.


Diagnosis is based on symptoms and a battery of tests that may include blood analysis, lung Xrays, and microscopic examination of samples from the lungs. There is a specific test available for the dog flu, but not the new variant. Cornell advises veterinarians that the Rt-PCR test may detect Influenza A H3N8, but the H3N2 may not be detected. However, an H3N2-specific serologic assay is under development and will be available soon.

Dr. Mahaney notes that a vaccine (Nobivac® Canine Flu H3N8) is available. Again, it isn’t known if this will also protect against the H3N2 strain. Your veterinarian will advise you best whether the vaccination is a good idea for your dog. In areas like Chicago where the viruses are active, avoid places where dogs congregate, such as dog parks and grooming salons.

Again, no cases have been reported in my neck of the woods here in North Texas. So for those attending the Denison event next Saturday, just be sure your pet is healthy, on a leash, and has proof of current vaccinations. For very young, very old or immune-challenged pets, leave them home while you enjoy the day! For details, visit

For more information about dog flu, refer to these links:

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6 thoughts on “DOG FLU, EMERGENCY! Wait…really?

  1. The dog flu is so scary. This weekend there was a pet expo here in Arizona. I debated bringing my dog to the event but decided to go. I did my best to refrain from any nose to nose contact w/ other dogs at the expo as a precaution as we have many tourists here. We went & had a great time! Thanks so much for the helpful information.

  2. There was dog from downstate Urbana, Illinois, that had recently been to Chicago. This dog has tested positive for canine flu, but they are not sure if it was H3N2 or not. The low-cost rabies vaccination clinics scheduled in the Champaign-Urbana area this weekend were cancelled, and the MUTTathon has been postponed from May 2 until June 6.

    It seems that H3N2 has been reported in cats in Asia, but no feline cases have been reported in the US.

    Another thing that might happen to infected animals is that other infections that they had been able to manage may combine with the flu and prove too much.

    • Hi Geoffrey, sorry to hear about the dog in Urbana. The canine flu test is specific to the “old” type, not the new H3N2. Many dogs apparently also could be infected with kennel cough and so suspected for the virus–but since there’s no way to definitively test for sure, it’s hard to know if these dogs are affected. And yes, as I mentioned in the post, no cats have been reported here in the US and even those supposedly infected in Asia are rare.

      You’re absolutely right that any dog that’s already incubating or ill with another illness could be more harshly affected if they develop a concurrent disease like canine flu.

  3. Pingback: Cat Colds & Canine Coughs: Allergies or Something Else?

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