How to Protect Yourself and Your Canine From Dog Flu

Dog with tennis ball in mouth running through lake
Dog with tennis ball in mouth running through lake Lisa Van Dyke / Getty Images

Your furry, squirrel-stalking, peanut butter-huffing hound is your best friend. But he might also be riddled with a new type of virus that can cause a flu pandemic, according to new research published in the American Society for Microbiology. Dog flu is the next big health concern.

Remember when swine flu and bird flu made their rounds? Researchers believe influenza viruses from pigs can jump into dogs, intermingling with their own canine viruses and infectious diseases to create a new virus that can infect and spread among humans.

What makes this especially dangerous is that, because humans have not been exposed to these hybrid viruses, we don’t have immunity against these strains. Don’t freak just yet: No humans have caught dog flu yet.

In New York City, there have been 61 positive cases of dog flu in dogs, though; what started as an isolated episode exploded into a nationwide concern. All states—except for North Dakota, Hawaii, and Alaska—have instances of dogs infected with one strain, though majority have been infected by both strains (H3N8, which is transferred from horses to dogs, and H3N2, which is transferred from birds to dogs). You can check out the full map here.

In the new study, researchers analyzed the genomes of 16 influenza viruses present in dogs in Southern China. The dogs were brought to vets for symptoms of respiratory problems—a hallmark of dog flu. They found the dogs had a few types of H1N1 swine flu viruses and new dog flu viruses, which were a result of the pig and dog flu strains mixing together.

So, how do you protect your dog from canine flu?

Note the risk factors. All canines are inherently at risk because they don’t have natural immunity to dog flu because it’s so new, according to Merck Animal Health. However, rescue dogs and dogs that travel a lot with owners are at a higher risk; that’s also how dog flu’s spread across the country. Obviously dogs are at risk if they’re social; dogs that lick or rub against one another in a park, play with dogs at a daycare, or come in contact with contaminated toys, dogs, and humans can contract the virus. It can travel through the air and by direct contact.

To keep your pet safe, get your pup vaccinated for dog flu. In addition to the Bordetella vaccination, the Nobivac Canine Flu H3N8 has been shown to minimize the spread of dog flu and minimize its impact and symptoms, per research published in Veterinary Therapeutics.

You can also use the American Veterinary Medical Association as a resource for more information on symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.