Dog Flu: Can Humans Get It Too?

Humans aren’t the only ones dealing with influenza this season—your pets can get it too. In fact, unlike humans, your dog or cat has a good chance of getting sick even if it’s not human flu season yet. What might concern you is how your pets get the flu and whether they can pass it on. Can humans get sick with the dog flu too?

According to Cornell University College of Medicine, pets have been seeing an outbreak of the dog flu during the past few months too. Similar to the influenza reports that humans have, Cornell University keeps an eye out for canine influenza through their own watch report.  

Recently, though, the report hasn’t been looking so good. Within the past 45 days, cases of the flu have been reported in California, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, with California taking the bulk of flu cases. So far, the big state’s seen over 70, and you might as well expect more to come.

So what can you do about it? If you live in a highly active area, it’s a good idea to watch for signs of sickness.

Since 2015, states with the most canine flu activity include Illinois, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Florida. And this year, California’s the state to watch for.

What About Their Humans?

So while you’re worried about the family dog or cat, you might be wondering if humans can get the dog flu too. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, it’s definitely contagious among the dog and cat population.

Although not all dogs have been exposed to the virus, nearly all dogs who do get exposed end up catching influenza. Outbreaks can happen quickly, especially for dogs that are more socialized in kennels, races, shows, or dog parks.

The dog flu isn’t just local to dogs, though. Veterinarians have observed the same strain of the virus in cats as well, confirming that the flu can be transmitted between animals. However, the AVMF affirms that humans likely can’t get the dog flu—no cases have ever been reported in humans to date.

The Possibility

While doctors have never found the canine flu in a human, that doesn’t necessarily mean that transmission isn’t possible. According to a study published in 2015, dogs are actually able to catch the human norovirus, commonly known as the stomach flu.

Researchers in the study found that dogs can build up an immunity against the norovirus, suggesting that they would have had to be exposed to it. This ability to jump across different species is called a zoonotic disease, and it’s not uncommon. Just think about rabies or the West Nile virus.

Whether humans can get the stomach flu from dogs is not yet confirmed, but it’s true that they’re more likely to catch it from each other rather than their pets. Until you know more, however, you may want to play it safe with hand-washing and direct contact, especially if your pet is sick.

How to Deal with the Dog Flu

The canine flu gets transmitted to other dogs through exposure to contaminated surfaces or through close contact with an infected dog during barking, sneezing, and coughing.

Once a dog is infected, he will usually start showing signs after 2 to 3 days. Basically, you should look for the same signs you might see in a human:

  • Persistent cough
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Most dogs will simply get a mild form, but some will go on to develop a severe case of influenza or pneumonia. Either way, you should get your dog (or cat) diagnosed by a vet since symptoms of other diseases can sometimes look similar.

Once diagnosed, you’ll need to give your dog much-needed rest and keep him away from other dogs as much as possible. You may need to keep up your pet’s confinement for up to 4 weeks. If symptoms worsen at any time or persist, you should go back to the vet for further examination.

In addition, some dogs may need help with getting enough food and water. Your vet will let you know if you should feed a special diet to promote good digestion.

Finally, you should also take care to keep your pet’s food and water bowls clean as well as other areas that your dog comes into close contact with. To prevent your dog from getting the flu, you may consider getting the flu shot, although the shot isn’t recommended for all dogs.

Those most at risk are usually around other animals. For example, you may want to get the flu shot if your dog goes to training centers, kennels, doggie daycares, groomers, dog shows or races, dog parks, and anywhere else where dogs may congregate.

The dog flu can be just as hard for your pet to go through as the human flu is for you. However, for now, you can rest assured that no cases have been transmitted from dogs to humans. For everyone’s sake, still maintaining your pet’s good health and hygiene can go a long way in keeping both your family and your pet happy and healthy.