Pet 411: What you should know about canine flu

This year’s flu season has been brutal to us humans. It seems like everyone I know is either currently feverish and coughing, or recently recovered. 

But people aren’t the only ones susceptible to this illness. All of the talk of the flu epidemic is raising questions among pet owners about canine flu, which continues to pop up in pockets around the country.

One concerned dog owner wrote me with a number of questions about canine flu: What are the different strains? Can a dog have all three types? Where is canine flu spreading? How is the disease transmitted, and can humans infect dogs (or vice versa)?

These are all excellent questions on a very important topic.  While canine flu is not typically life-threatening, it is serious and very contagious, so it’s important to be as educated as possible about how to prevent it.

While there are several different strains of canine flu, the one grabbing all of the attention is H3N2. This strain was blamed for sickening more than 1,000 dogs in the Chicago area in 2015, and continues to pop up in pockets throughout the country. Last year, our BluePearl veterinarians treated confirmed cases of canine flu in Chicago; Houston; Louisville, KY; Atlanta and Tampa, Fla.

According to the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine, which is tracking canine flu, cases have recently been reported in California, Nevada, Kentucky, Illinois and New Jersey.

How do you know if your pet has canine flu? Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, fever, nasal discharge, decreased appetite and general lethargy. In rare cases, it can lead to pneumonia and difficulty breathing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence of transmission of canine flu viruses from dogs to people, and there hasn’t been a single reported case of human infection with a canine flu virus.

If you live in an area where canine flu has been reported, consider taking steps to keep your dog away from other dogs. Steer clear of dog parks, grooming parlors and doggie day care centers. In addition, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about the H3N2 canine influenza vaccine.

If your dog does display symptoms of canine flu, call your veterinarian before heading to the clinic.  Many veterinary hospitals (including BluePearl) are taking steps to reduce the risk of infection, such as setting up a mobile unit or conducting exams in a separate area.

Most importantly, don’t panic. While the canine flu is serious, the number of confirmed cases at this time is relatively low. With some precautions, you can greatly reduce your dog’s risk of getting infected.

Thanks so much for writing! And be sure to keep yourselves healthy, too.

Have a question about your pet that you’d like answered? Write to Dr. Cathy Meeks at She’d love to hear from you, and your letter may be picked for an upcoming Pet 411 column.