This page looks at the dog flu virus that causes dogs to come down with influenza, the signs and symptoms and conventional treatment of dog flu, as well as how to use natural remedies such as herbs, minerals, and vitamins to support a sick dog's immune system so it can fight off the infection.
The two strains of dog flu virus that can cause our dogs to become sick are H3N8 and H3N2.
The H3N8 virus originally was an equine (horse) influenza virus that has spread to dogs, mutated, and can now spread between dogs, causing a respiratory disease called canine influenza.
Canine influenza is a disease of dogs, not of humans. The virus is quite different from the swine flu or bird flu that can infect people.
The number of dogs at risk of dying from this virus may be anywhere from 1 to 10 percent.
The original H3N8 equine influenza virus has been known to exist in horses for more than 40 years.
In 2004, some greyhounds developed cases of an unknown respiratory illness, which was later found to be caused by the equine influenza A H3N8 virus.
It is believed that this virus crossed species barriers (from horses to dogs) and has now adapted to infect dogs and spread among dogs.
In September, 2005, this strain of virus was "officially" regarded as a new dog-specific lineage of H3N8.
The H3N2 virus, first identified in Asia in 2006, was probably introduced to North America in 2015 by dogs imported from Asia.
The virus is transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog's nasal secretions (through sneezing and coughing) and also through direct contact with contaminated materials such as beddings, food and water bowls, etc.
If your dog is coughing or showing other signs of dog flu, do not bring your dog to facilities where other dogs can be exposed to the virus.
There are two risk factors that can trigger dog flu infection:
The virus has an incubation period of 2 to 4 days, which means after a dog has been exposed to the virus, the dog will show flu symptoms 2 to 4 days later.
The symptoms last for about 7 days. During this 7-day period the dog is infectious.
Flu symptoms in dogs are similar to those in kennel cough, including such upper respiratory symptoms as:
Also, the dog may show symptoms such as:
In serious cases, it can progress to pneumonia as the flu virus opens the respiratory system to secondary bacterial infection, resulting in bacterial pneumonia, which can become life-threatening.
Dog flu usually is not serious and most dogs infected with the flu virus will recover with no treatment.
At present, conventional treatment largely consists of supportive care only. For example:
In May 2009, the first dog influenza vaccine against the H3N8 strain (developed by Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health Corporation) has been approved by the USDA.
According to Petmd.com, in 2015, a vaccine against the H3N2 strain was also made available.
In October 2017, a combined vaccine was introduced to "kill two strains with one dose". (Actually it needs two injections given 2-4 weeks apart.)
The effectiveness of the vaccine doesn't last forever. Annual re-vaccination is needed.
Just like the human flu vaccine, dog flu vaccine does not 100 percent prevent a dog from getting the flu. But it does reduce the seriousness of the symptoms and the duration of the illness.
I guess we all agree that over-vaccination can be harmful to dogs, so weigh the pros and cons carefully before vaccinating your dog against the dog flu virus.
If your dog is not frequently boarded and lives a relatively stress-free life, you most likely do not need to vaccinate Fido against the flu.
If you have an older dog, or a dog with a weakened immune system, talk to your vet to see if vaccination is advisable.
Natural remedies such as herbs, minerals, and vitamins can be used to support the immune system of a dog infected with dog flu virus.
By strengthening the dog's immune system, he will be more ready to fight off the virus and the infection will not last as long and the symptoms not as serious.
Herbs that strengthen and support the immune system include echinacea, astragalus, cat's claw, as well as various mushrooms. In particular, reishi, maitake, and shiitake mushrooms have been found to have high levels of polysaccharides which have immune-enhancing properties.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and can also boost the immune system so that the body can fight off diseases.
In addition, other antioxidants such as vitamins E, Coenzyme Q10, and green tea have been found to be effective in immune support.
This Chinese herbal formula is very effective in reducing phlegm and decreasing coughing, as well as supporting the digestion system.
You may also try using colloidal silver to help your dog fight the flu.
Colloidal silver is like a natural antibiotic - it has strong antimicrobial (antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal) properties and is effective in strengthening a dog's immune system.
If your dog is infected with the dog flu virus, make sure that she has enough rest. Restrict and limit the amount and intensity of exercise.
In addition, give your dog plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration. If your dog does not want to drink water, add a bit of flavor to the water (e.g. chicken broth) to entice her to drink more.
Keep your dog away from environmental irritants and pollutants (e.g. cigarette smoke, house dust, etc.) as much as possible.
If your dog is coughing, use essential oils to soothe and calm your dog. Essential oils that have antibacterial and antiviral properties, such as oils of lavender, eucalyptus, and niaouli, are effective.
Add chamomile essential oil for its calming effect so that your dog can relax and rest better. Add these oils to a diffuser or vaporizer and use it in the room where your dog rests.
Also use this natural homeopathic remedy to help soothe the cough (click on the link to find out more):
Prevention is better than cure! Here are some ways to prevent canine influenza:
Healthy chicken soup gives nutrients to a dog recovering from the flu, who usually is weak and does not have a good appetite. Soup can boost the dog's immune system, provides fluid to the body and prevents dehydration. The taste can also entice a dog with low appetite to eat.
Check out this healthy and yummy bone broth: