Written by: Dr. Chip Coombs
At this time of year the flu “bug” is making its annual rounds and in an effort to minimize the serious effects of this influenza virus, particularly in elderly people, we are all encouraged receive the vaccine. Pet owners will often ask if they give the flu virus to their pet. This is an interesting question and the answer is not so clear cut.
Certainly dogs and cats get their own respiratory problems, with the same type of clinical signs such as coughing, wheezing, nasal discharge, lethargy, poor appetite, and even secondary pneumonia. For these common respiratory threats, there are vaccines available and they would usually be part of the “core” vaccines that your veterinarian would recommend depending upon your pet’s lifestyle.
However, these respiratory viruses are not Type A influenza viruses. That said, studies on both dogs and cats have shown the presence of influenza viruses in their bloodstream. In fact, even without watching Hollywood films, it is commonly known that the major flu epidemic of 2009 caused by Influenza H1N1 is believed to have originally involved pigs. It is known that the influenza virus can and will “jump” species and when it does so, it can mutate to the point of being quite happy setting up residence in its new species host. In fact, one of the two strains that can affect dogs H3N8 originally started in horses. There is now a newer strain in dogs called H3N2 which caused an outbreak of influenza in Chicago and the US Midwest in 2015.
So, are you likely to ever pass on the flu to your pet? Highly unlikely, but perhaps not impossible. In the same vein, there is no recorded case of humans getting the flu from their pet. There are vaccines available in the US for canine flu, but, as you might guess, it doesn’t prevent the disease, but rather makes it less severe. In Canada, canine flu was unknown until 2 dogs recently imported from South Korea via the US have been diagnosed with H3N2. This diagnosis was made in Essex County, Ontario. With the mobility of our global world and the desire of people to adopt dogs from foreign countries, it will likely be a matter of time before this virus gains a foothold in Canada. This risk makes ongoing vigilance and precautions very important, so if you think there is any possibility that your dog has developed canine flu, it would be prudent to isolate him/her from other dogs and to contact your veterinarian.