We ask each other every fall: “Have you had your flu shot yet?” But what about our dogs? Canine flu made headlines in 2015 when it overwhelmed Chicago veterinarians with sick dogs. It was a strain unknown at that time and was spreading fast since dogs were contagious before symptoms became evident.

What is canine flu and how can I protect my dog?

Canine influenza (also known as dog flu) is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by specific influenza viruses known to infect dogs. There are two different dog flu viruses: H3N8 virus and H3N2 virus.

The H3N8 virus first appeared in the U.S at Greyhound racetracks in Florida. It was originally a virus that infected only horses but crossed over to infect dogs in 2004. A vaccine was developed and is available from your veterinarian.

The H3N2 virus was originally an Asian aviary virus. It was first detected in South Korea in 2007 but did not hit the U.S. until April 2015 in the Chicago area. It has since spread to over 30 states. A vaccine for this virus was developed in November 2015 and is available from your veterinarian.

Neither of these viruses are a danger to humans at this time. However, influenza viruses are always changing. They could one day cross over to humans, though the CDC considers the chances of this to be very low.

Symptoms of dog flu include coughing, runny nose and eyes, lethargy and fever. The severity symptoms associated with canine flu can range from no signs of illness at all to severe problems resulting in pneumonia and sometimes death. Infected dogs can spread the virus for roughly 3 weeks, and should be kept away from all other dogs to prevent spreading the disease.

Talk to your veterinarian about canine flu and the options available for your dog.