Your canine best friend is clearly under the weather; when you bring out the leash, no excited leaping occurs. Food is left untouched. You hear an unusual cough. You can tell something is wrong, but when you check the symptoms online, a plethora of possible diagnoses pop up. A new diagnosis added to the list this year is canine flu. That's right, your dog can get the flu just like you can, and it even presents with similar symptoms to the one humans get. However, even though you can usually ride out the flu in bed with a box of tissues and some hot tea nearby, your dog needs medical attention. While the current canine flu outbreak shouldn't cause alarm, its symptoms could point to one of several more serious conditions.

What is canine flu?

The canine flu is caused by two viruses, H3N8 and H3N2. H3N8 has been around for about 11 years here in America, having jumped from horses to dogs.  H3N2 is the one that is causing concern all over the country right now, as it is easily spread through contact with other dogs and can cause serious complications. So far, it appears that almost all dogs exposed to the virus contract the flu, with 80% of dogs developing subsequent illness. The first cases of this virus showed up just this year, thought to have arrived here with a group of dogs from Korea. As of May 2015, several thousand dogs in 12 states from New York to California have been positively diagnosed with the disease.

What are the symptoms of canine flu?

Symptoms of the flu include

  • lethargy
  • fever (nose will be dry and warm)
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • lack of appetite

Complications of the virus include pneumonia and high fever. If your dog is markedly lethargic, not drinking adequate fluids, and not urinating as often as usual, you may need to take him/her to an emergency vet clinic. Puppies, elderly dogs, and those with chronic medical conditions run a greater risk of complications than healthy adult dogs.

Flu treatment

The flu usually runs its course in about two weeks. During that time, dogs need much of the same things we do when we have the flu: rest, proper nutrition, lots of fluids, comfortable surroundings, and pain-relieving medications. If complications arise, such as a bacterial infection, the veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics.

Cautionary notes

Although it doesn't sound canine flu is a big deal, don't just assume this is what is afflicting your dog. It's important that you take your dog to the vet because the symptoms of dog flu are common to several medical conditions that can be much more serious, such as

  • hepatitis
  • distemper
  • kennel cough
  • parvovirus
  • leptospirosis
  • giardia
  • circovirus

All of these viruses share symptoms with the canine flu but present significantly greater danger to your dog's health. For example, hepatitis affects dogs' internal organs, distemper attacks the respiratory system, parvovirus damages the intestinal tract and heart muscle, and leptospirosis targets the kidneys and liver. Therefore, you cannot assume your dog "just" has canine flu; as a responsible pet owner, you need to go to the vet. Definitive diagnosis of canine flu can only be made through blood tests that show the presence of antibodies to the H3N2 virus.

If your dog starts sneezing or coughing, take it seriously. Because this is your best friend, make sure to schedule a veterinary appointment right away so that you know whether this is the flu or something that poses a greater danger to your pet. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, your dog should be leaping for the leash again soon.