We're still in flu season in the U.S. and just because a dog can't tell you their nose is stuffy, doesn't mean they can't get sick.
Do you realize human influenza virus can transmit to pets? Are you taking precautions to prevent transmission of zoonotic disease (those capable of interspecies transmission).
Considering that people can be infected regardless of vaccination status and that not everyone will be immunized, it’s important that we recognize the potential for humans to pass a microorganism like the influenza virus to our pets. Yes, your dog or cat could contract the flu from you.
The Spread of Zoonotic Diseases
Bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or other agents (prions, such as those that cause Mad Cow Disease) all have zoonotic potential, meaning they are capable of spreading between humans and animals, or vice versa.
Although it is relatively uncommon for animals to contract viral or other infectious organisms from humans, it does happen. One notable occurrence was in 2009 when humans contracted H1N1 (swine flu) influenza virus from swine (pigs). Cats, dogs, and ferrets fell ill or died after contracting the H1N1 from people.
More information about cross-species illnesses can be found in my petMD article, Reduce the Potential for Zoonotic Disease Transmission
Clinical Signs of Influenza Infection in People and Pets
Cats, dogs, and people all show similar clinical signs of respiratory tract disease, including those that occur post-influenza infection:
Nasal or ocular discharge — clear, mucus, or even blood from the nose or eyes
Coughing — productive/moist or non-productive/dry cough
Increase respiratory effort (labored breathing) or rate
Digestive Tract Upset — vomit, diarrhea, and decreased appetite
If your cat or dog shows clinical signs of a respiratory tract illness (cough, sneeze, nasal discharge, lethargy, etc.), schedule an examination with your veterinarian
Is the Canine Influenza Vaccine Appropriate for Your Pooch?
Juvenile, geriatric, and immunocompromised pets are more prone to contracting infectious diseases than healthy adults.
Environments that promote canine congregation are also hot zones for various diseases. These environments include:
Boarding facilities — kennels and daycare
Breed shows and interest group gatherings
Performance trials (agility, earth dog, etc.)
Shelters and rescues
These sites create the potential for direct interaction or exposure to the bodily secretions of other dogs (nasal, oral, etc.) and the exchange of disease causing agents. Additionally, the stress experienced during activity, travel, or confinement commonly alters normal patterns of eating, eliminating, and sleeping, thereby negatively impacting the immune system and making our canine companions more susceptible to infection.
Preventative Measures — Protecting Your Pet from the Flu
Besides immunizations, it’s important to provide our pets with the healthiest lifestyle possible to reduce their exposure to infectious organisms and ensure their immune systems can adequately fight off bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
This includes minimizing existing infectious disease in the body, such as the plethora of bacteria thriving in the canine mouth that readily enter into the bloodstream and damage the kidneys, liver, and other organs. Additionally, maintaining a healthy body condition puts less stress on all body systems and allows the blood and lymphatic vessels to more efficiently function to remove microorganisms.
Family members of all ages should practice good sanitary habits, including thorough hand washing with soap and warm water after touching an animal or other person. Additionally, close contact with pets and other people should be avoided during episodes of illness, both yours and theirs.
Have your pets ever suffered from a respiratory tract infection (or other disease) that was transmitted by another pet or person? Feel free to share your story.
And to see some great images of the influenza virus and how it works, visit the CDC’s Seasonal Influenza page.
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