It's flu season! You may be wondering whether your pet needs a flu shot just like you do. Our vets break it down.
Yes, Pet Can Get the Flu
Both dogs and cats can suffer from various strains of the flu. The good news is, they're different from the human strains, so you don't have to worry about cross-contamination. Canine flu symptoms are a lot like those of human influenza and include cough, nasal discharge, inappetence, sneezing, lethargy, and fever. At present, only two specific strains of canine flu have ever been identified in the U.S.: H3N8 and H3N2.
The "cat flu" is a bit different. In fact, the term cat flu is generally used to refer to cats suffering from the Feline Herpes Virus 1 (FHV1) or Feline Calicivirus (FVC).
Does My Cat Need a Flu Shot?
If you have a cat, you really should make sure their FHV/FHC vaccinations are up-to-date, especially if they ever come in contact with other animals. Depending on the dosage and size of your cat you may need a booster annually, bi-annually, or even once every three years. Talk to your vet about making sure your cat's protected.
Does My Dog Need a Flu Shot?
Dog flu is different from human flu in a couple of important ways. Canine flu is not seasonal! It is, however, incredibly contagious. Dogs who are around other dogs or go to communal spaces like dog parks or doggy day cares are far more likely to contract the virus.
Dog flu spreads in outbreaks, clusters of dogs in a geographic area all suffering from the same strain at at the same time. While your dog is probably more likely to get the flu in the spring or summer when they're most social, they can be exposed to the virus any time of the year.
This is why the canine influenza vaccine is not seasonal the way human flu vaccines are. The canine flu vaccine is a lifestyle vaccine, meaning you and your vet should discuss it if your dog has any lifestyle factors that make them particularly vulnerable. If you live in an area where an outbreak is present, you'll probably want to get the vaccine. It also may be a good idea to preemptively vaccinate your dog if they interact with other dogs on a regular basis, such as at the dog park or in dog shows.
Protecting Your Pet from the Flu
Even if you decide not to vaccinate, it's still important to do all you can to protect your pet from contracting the influenza virus. Influenza can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours, so be sure to use an anti-microbial cleaner to regularly disinfect your dog's toys, bowls, and bedding.
Stay abreast of news regarding flu outbreaks in your area. If there's an outbreak nearby, it's best to quarantine your dog at home until the threat passes. And remember that a dog without symptoms can still be a carrier of the flu virus!
Here's a useful map hosted by Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine that tracks where canine flu is currently being reported.
Want to vaccinate your pet against the flu?