Q: Can I catch the flu from my dog—or can he catch it from me?
A: In short, no. However, your dog can pass what’s known as canine influenza to other dogs, and possibly to cats. Two strains of canine influenza virus have been identified, one originating in horses (equine influenza) and the other in birds (avian influenza). Both became canine influenza viruses when transmitted to dogs.
Scientists in South Korea recently conducted a study demonstrating that canine influenza virus can mix with the virus that causes swine flu, resulting in a new strain of virus. New strains of flu virus are always worrisome because they can cross species barriers, meaning there’s a possibility that dogs could one day infect humans and vice versa, although according to the CDC, there are no documented cases of such infections.
Unlike human influenza, canine flu follows no seasonal patterns and can occur at any time during the year. But dogs have symptoms similar to those of humans: coughing, a runny nose, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Canine flu is thought to be spread by respiratory droplets from barking, coughing, or sneezing as well as by contact with contaminated surfaces where the virus can remain for up to 48 hours. This most often occurs when dogs share close quarters such as in doggie daycare centers, groomers, kennels, and shelters.
If your dog exhibits flu symptoms, try to keep him comfortable and well hydrated. Don’t let him near other dogs and cats, and regularly wash or disinfect bedding, dog toys, bowls, and anything else your dog comes in contact with. Wash and disinfect your hands and clothing, too, after touching your dog so you don’t spread the virus to other animals.
With your supportive care, expect your dog to bounce back from the flu in about two to three weeks. Sometimes, though, as with humans, a bacterial infection can develop, which can lead to more serious illness, especially pneumonia. If symptoms are severe and don’t improve, a trip to the vet is in order. He or she can prescribe antibiotics.
This article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see Can Your Dog or Cat Make You Sick?