What you need to know about the dog flu outbreak

This story is part of our annual Pets issue, which you can read in full here.

As new cases of canine influenza have appeared in Georgia, veterinarians are urging vigilance for pet owners and pet fosters. Sneezing, coughing and runny nose should now provoke a visit to the vet, even if your dog has the typical protective vaccines like Bordetella. This is because a new strain of the virus (prevalent in the Midwest) has been found in an Atlanta area boarding facility.

What is typically referred to as “kennel cough” can become a more serious respiratory disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since the contagious canine influenza virus can live on clothing and on table and countertop surfaces, it is important to use hand sanitizer and wash clothes.

Here’s what you need to know about canine flu, according to the CDC.

What causes canine flu?
Canine flu is caused by two viruses: Influenza A H3N8 and Influenza A H3N2. Both only affect animals.

How did the virus start?
The H3N8 strain originated in horses before it crossed over to dogs. It has adapted since the first reported U.S. case in 2004 and spread among dogs, especially those housed in kennels and shelters. The H3N2 strain is an avian flu virus that’s different from its human counterpart and found mostly in Asia. In addition to dogs, it does affect cats, and was first reported in the United States (Chicago, Illinois) in April 2015. The CDC reported the virus strain in Atlanta in May 2015.

What are the symptoms?
Signs of canine flu are similar to flu in humans. The animals cough, get a runny nose, are lethargic, lose appetite and have a fever.

How is it spread?
Both the bacterial and viral causes of canine cough are spread through airborne droplets produced by sneezing and coughing. Contact with contaminated surfaces further spreads the canine flu.

Can humans get it?
No evidence has been found of transmission from dogs to people.

Is it safe to take my dog to the park?
The virus is spread among dogs, so as a precaution, dog owners should avoid contact with other dogs in parks and various types of shelters. Call your local vet, dog groomer, pet boarder or pet sitter to determine their exposure and recommendations. Most facilities maintain clean, disinfected kennels and have quarantined animals with canine flu symptoms.

Is canine flu the same as kennel cough?
Kennel cough is so named because the bacteria (Bordetella) or virus (parainfluenza or canine coronavirus), while treatable, is contagious and can spread quickly among dogs in the close quarters of a kennel or animal shelter.

Is canine flu fatal?
Yes and no. While a small percentage of dogs die, others can get severely sick when pneumonia sets in. Some dogs show no symptoms at all. In the latter cases, a veterinarian can conduct a test to detect the virus.

How is canine flu treated?
There’s no specific treatment because it’s a viral disease, but dogs can get supportive care to boost immunity. If a secondary bacterial infection is diagnosed, antibiotics can be prescribed. A vaccine is also available in the United States, but only for H3N8. It’s not known whether it can help prevent the newest strain, H3N2, which is causing the latest outbreak.