Can My Dog Get Swine Flu?
Pets Can Come Down With H1N1 Swine Flu
A cat in Iowa recently made headlines when it contracted swine flu. The news also made pet owners, already apprehensive of contracting H1N1 themselves, fear that their pets may run a high risk of getting sick. Worse, pet owners worry that they could spread the flu to their beloved pets. It seems that two of the three people in the cat’s home had shown flu-like symptoms before the cat became ill.
The good news is that the Iowa cat that got sick with the H1N1 swine flu has recovered. The bad news is that two ferrets that contracted the same ailment have died.
What Are the Chances My Pet Will Get Swine Flu?
Fortunately, Canadian veterinarians say that the risk of one’s pet getting sick from swine flu is fairly low. Dr. Scott Weese of Ontario Veterinary College’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses states, “Considering the large number of infected people and the presumably large number of exposed pets, the risk of transmission to pets appears to be extremely low.” As CTV reports:
The main reason is that animals and pets have different respiratory systems. To get a little more technical about it, they have different receptors on their cells, and flu viruses that have adapted to spreading well between humans just don’t seem to infect the cells of other species very well.
And interestingly, there have been no reports of swine flu in dogs, rabbits or rodents. The one pet species that appears to be most at risk of contracting H1N1 is the ferret, which has cell receptors similar to those of humans. But as Dr. Weese notes, a low risk of infection does not mean no risk. So animal owners should take the same basic precautions to prevent spreading infection to their pets as they do (or should do) with respect to other people, including:
- Frequent hand washing.
- Frequent use of alcohol-based sanitizers.
- Avoiding contact with one’s pets if one is sick or coughing.
- Seeking veterinary care if the pet gets sick.
“Dog Flu” is a Bigger Threat to Dogs Than Swine Flu
A bigger threat to dogs than the swine flu is the so-called “dog flu,” or canine influenza, that first appeared in horses and migrated to dogs. Known as H3N8, the canine flu can sicken dogs but does not seem to infect humans. According to Dr. Weese, most cases of canine flu are mild; however, as with flu in humans, canine influenza can cause serious or even fatal infections. It seems to occur most often with increased exposure to other dogs, as in kennels, shelters and greyhound racetracks.
Some of the symptoms of canine influenza may include:
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased activity levels
- In severe cases, pneumonia
If any of these symptoms appear, one should seek veterinary care for the dog as soon as possible.
Vaccine for Canine Flu is Available
There is a vaccine available for canine influenza that can reduce the incidence and severity of the disease. However, similar to the flu vaccines available to humans, it offers no guarantee the dog will not contract the ailment. Furthermore, unless the dog is subject to a high-risk environment, such as a kennel, shelter or dog racetrack, a vaccination may not be necessary. Whether or not to vaccinate one’s dog against the canine flu is a decision that should be made after consulting one’s veterinarian.