Can Dogs Get Dog Flu?

Canine influenza virus, which affects only dogs, is highly contagious, but usually runs its course within a few weeks.

First identified in 2004, the H3N8 canine influenza virus is the first known proper flu virus to affect dogs. While dog flu is highly contagious and highly infectious among dogs, it has given neither veterinarians nor dog owners any reason to regard canine influenza as being particularly dangerous or deadly.

The greatest risk for infection is in places with a large number of dogs and heavy turnover, such as boarding facilities and kennels. There is a vaccine for dog flu, but even that is still considered optional for dogs who do not frequent these facilities.

What is dog flu?

Dog flu is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system of dogs, with symptoms and risk factors that are very similar to kennel cough. Canine influenza virus spreads through the air and by contact with infected objects, so it is most easily contracted in places where a number of other dogs are present.

This includes boarding facilities, kennels, groomers, dog parks, training classes, and, yes, even veterinarian’s offices. Like other infectious diseases, very young puppies, senior dogs, and those with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk.

The newness of canine influenza means that dogs do not have a natural or inherited immunity to it. Any dog who is exposed to the canine influenza virus may contract it, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, some 80 percent of dogs who are exposed will only develop the mild form, which, like human flu, is self-limiting, running its course within two to three weeks.

Symptoms of dog flu

There are two forms of dog flu, mild and severe. The mild form of dog flu is by far the more common, and it has symptoms that are indistinguishable from most respiratory disorders in dogs. These include coughing, sneezing, and runny noses. A dog with a mild form of the canine influenza virus may even develop a fever, though the fever tends to subside before dog owners even notice.

The danger of the severe form of canine influenza is not from the virus itself, but from the manifestation of secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia taking hold while the dog is in a weakened state. In addition to coughing, sneezing, and runny noses, dogs with a severe case of flu may have a more insistent fever ranging from 103 to 107 degrees F., difficulty breathing, and, occasionally, a cough that produces blood.

Treatment of canine influenza

Dogs with mild canine influenza are treated with much the same approach as with humans: to wit, with rest and plenty of fluids, which for dogs means a ready supply of fresh water. In multi-dog households, a sick dog should also be isolated from the others for the duration of the illness. A dog with severe canine influenza will need an accurate diagnosis involving tests of saliva and blood before proceeding to treatment, which may require hospitalization, fluids, and broad-spectrum antibiotics to combat the secondary infection.

Is there a dog flu vaccine?

A vaccine for the H3N8 canine influenza virus, consisting of two shots administered over the course of three weeks, was approved for use in 2009, but it is still considered optional. Consult with your veterinarian, who will be better equipped to tell you whether the area you live in has a track record of diagnosed dog flu cases. Some boarding facilities and kennels, such as this one in Pennsylvania, have begun to require the vaccination as a prerequisite for a dog’s stay. There are no known side effects from the dog flu vaccine.

Can humans catch dog flu?

While it is highly contagious and infectious between dogs, the canine influenza virus is not a zoonotic disease. There has yet to be a single instance of the H3N8 dog flu infecting any other creature, including humans. Be cautious and practical, though, especially if you have more than one dog. Following routine hygienic practices — washing your hands after touching strange dogs, and regularly cleaning and disinfecting your dog’s bedding, bowls, and toys — will help protect the dogs in your home.

Prevention of dog flu is the best approach

Dog flu has been diagnosed at all times of the year, not thought to be seasonal like human flu viruses, so taking preventative measures tends to be the best approach. Dog owners who place their dogs in boarding facilities and kennels, even for short periods of time, should ask well in advance whether these facilities have had any confirmed cases recently. If possible, take a tour of any such facility to see that they are well-ventilated, kept clean, and that dogs are not kept in too close proximity to each other.

Since dog flu is not seasonal like human flu viruses, the simplest thing dog owners can do is make sure their dogs keep a discreet distance from sick dogs in public. It is always wise to ask other owners whether their dog has, or has recently had, a cough before allowing dogs to approach each other. In multi-dog households, a dog suffering from canine influenza should also be given separate food and water bowls to minimize the risk of spreading the infection.

Get your flu shot!

Your vet will know best whether the canine influenza vaccine is necessary, or even practical, for the dogs in your home. At present, most single-dog homes whose dogs have limited or occasional contact with a number of other dogs have little to fear from dog flu. Dog owners, on the other hand, should get a flu shot on a yearly basis. After all, how can you take care of a dog who does get sick if you’re laid up in bed with a flu virus of your own?

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372



Top 10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Yes cats and dogs get cancer like us humans.  Here are some signs that can alert you to possible danger.

Editor’s Note: November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month and Vetstreet Veterinary Board Member Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, who is also a board-certified veterinary oncologist, reviews some of the important signs that can help you save your pet’s life.

In a recent article, I compared the common types of cancer in pets with those found in people. My next step, in this article, is to write about how pet owners might recognize signs of cancer in pets, with a special focus on the common types. Some of these signs, such asweight loss and bad breath, may be indicative of cancer or they may signify other health problems. Regardless, they should always prompt a discussion with your veterinarian.

Here are the ten signs that top my concern list as a veterinary oncologist:

  1. Bleeding or discharge from any place on the body, such as the mouth, eyes or nose, or in the urine
  2. Change in urination or defecation habits
  3. Sores that do not heal
  4. Bad smell from the mouth or body
  5. Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  6. Loss of energy; reluctance to exercise
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Weight loss
  9. Swellings or lumps that enlarge
  10. Lameness or stiffness

Let’s look at how these signs present with some of the more common cancers that affect cats and dogs.

Breast Cancer

Possible signs: Swellings or lumps that enlarge; sores that do not heal.

In both dogs and cats, breast cancer can be detected by the pet owner during a relaxing session of tummy rubbing and scratching. Breast cancer starts as tiny, pinhead-size lumps anywhere along the chain of mammary glands found on the underside of the chest and abdomen of your male or female dog or cat (although it is rare in males). Once the tumors reach the size of raisins, they can easily be felt as somewhat soft to firm lumps or masses. Any lumps or masses in the mammary area should be evaluated by your veterinarian.


Possible signs: In cats, weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or blood in the stool. In dogs, rapidly enlarging lymph nodes. Occasionally, increased water consumption and urine output.

The most common form of lymphoma differs between dogs and cats. In cats, insidious weight loss is the hallmark of lymphoma, which occurs most commonly in the feline gastrointestinal tract. I know from personal experience and from scientific research that pet owners sometimes have a hard time assessing a plumper-than-normal or a skinnier-than-usual dog or cat. Weight loss and appetite loss are indicative of many diseases other than cancer, though, so it’s important to notice any changes. Next time you visit your veterinarian, ask her to help you assess the “body condition score” of your pet. Ideal body conditions generally score about a three on a scale of one to five or a four or five on a scale of one to ten.

One good way to keep tabs on your pet’s weight is to stay in close contact with your veterinarian, who keeps detailed records about your pet’s weight as part of her wellness examinations. Most veterinary offices have a readily accessible scale and would welcome your pet for a quick weigh-in anytime you are concerned about potential weight loss. If lymphoma affects your cat’s stomach, you may see vomiting. If it affects her intestines, you may notice diarrhea or blood in the stool. Some cats with lymphoma may also have a poor appetite or stop eating altogether.

From my veterinary perspective, the most common clinical sign of lymphoma in dogs is swollen lymph nodes. The easiest lymph nodes for owners to see and feel are just beneath the skin under the chin, in front of the shoulders and behind the knees. In a normal, healthy dog, lymph nodes are not detectable by the average owner. Lymph nodes affected by lymphoma, however, are an example of rapidly enlarging lumps that should be immediately evaluated by a veterinarian. Another key sign, although it is seen in less than half of dogs with lymphoma, is a metabolic change that results in an increase in both water consumption and urine output. Again, keep in mind that increased drinking and urinating can also be signs of diseases other than cancer and always warrant a visit to your veterinarian.

Skin Cancer

Possible signs: Lumps or bumps that enlarge, sores that do not heal, limping and/or bleeding or broken toenails.

In dogs, the most common type of malignant skin cancer is a mast cell tumor. These tumors are superficial lumps that can be painful. They often swell, frequently bleed and then scab over, only to bleed again a few days later. They should not be squeezed by the owner, as squeezing can make them swell even more.

Similar signs occur in cats with the most common type of feline skin cancer — squamous cell carcinoma. This tumor may cause skin ulcers that bleed and scab, especially in the lightly haired skin around the eyes and nose and on the ear tips.

Unlike in humans, melanoma is typically benign in dogs and cats. It can occur in the mouth in dogs, however, and when it occurs in this location it is often highly malignant (see the Oral Cancers section below). The other location where melanoma can be malignant is at the junction between a dog’s claw and toe. If you see swelling, bleeding, an unexpected broken toenail or limping caused by a mass at the claw-toe junction, it may indicate a serious problem in your dog. Your dog should be evaluated by your veterinarian, who may recommend a biopsy.

Melanoma is somewhat unique among cancers in that it spans the spectrum from benign when found in the haired skin of pets to deadly when it occurs in the toes or mouths of dogs.

Oral Cancer

Signs of oral cancers include bad breath, blood in the saliva, decreased appetite, and difficulty in chewing or swallowing.

Many different tumors occur in the mouths of dogs and cats, but all have similar clinical signs. The most common in dogs is melanoma, while squamous cell carcinoma commonly occurs in cats.

Dogs with melanoma of the oral cavity may experience blood in the saliva, difficulty chewing and swallowing, or a decreased appetite. Dog owners frequently first notice heavy-duty hound halitosis, or bad breath. Cats with squamous cell carcinoma will exhibit similar signs. Because these tumors often block the tear ducts, a cat owner might also notice an increase in eye discharge in just one of their pet’s eyes or a funny look to their cat’s face because of the facial swelling associated with these tumors.

There are many types of cancers that occur in the oral cavity in both dogs and cats, and some of them can be quite aggressive. Anytime you note the above signs, or a lump or bump in your pet’s mouth, you should consult your veterinarian.

Osteaosarcoma (Bone Cancer)

Possible signs: Lameness and reluctance to put weight on a particular leg; painful hard lump or swelling.

The most frequently diagnosed tumor of the bone in both dogs and cats is osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. The clinical signs of any bone tumor include lameness and reluctance to put weight on a particular leg because the tumor makes it painful to walk on. If the tumor occurs in just the right location, you may be able to feel a hard lump or swelling on the bone, although be advised that these lumps can be extremely painful to the touch. An X-ray and biopsy will be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Be an Observant Owner

Though I’ve covered some of the more common signs of the most prevalent cancers, the important message here is to realize that many types of cancer have similar signs. Some of these signs can also be indicative of serious diseases other than cancer. When you are interacting with your pet daily, look for the signs I have described. If you see something of concern, have your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian. Even something as nonspecific as a general loss of energy or an unwillingness to exercise can be a warning that something is wrong. Always remember that an early diagnosis can help improve the chances of treatment success, whether your pet has cancer or any other serious disease.


Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372



Is Grain-Free Dog Food Really Better for Dogs?

Doesn’t it seem like “grain-free” dog food is taking over the pet food aisle? I’m surprised at just how omnipresent they’ve become. While there is nothing inherently bad about grain-free dog food, I worry that owners are being led to believe that grain-free foods are necessary for dogs. This is simply not the case.

Let me first say that there are times when a particular individual will benefit from a grain-free diet. For example, a dog who is allergic to wheat should obviously not be fed a food containing that type of grain. The question I want to look at, however, is, “Are there any benefits from going grain free for healthy dogs?” I believe the answer is “no” and that the popularity of grain-free diets is based on a couple of basic misunderstandings.

First of all, “grain free” is not the same as “carbohydrate free.” Starch, a type of carbohydrate, is essential to the formation of dog food kibble. Therefore, if you are feeding dry dog food, it has to contain a certain amount of carbohydrates. A quick look at the ingredient list will reveal the presence of potato, sweet potato, tapioca, or other carbohydrate sources. The phrase “grain-free” is not a substitute for “carbohydrate-free” or even “high-protein,” which is what most owners who buy these products seem to be looking for.

Contrary to what you might have heard, dogs do have all the digestive enzymes needed to break down, absorb, and utilize nutrients from grains. I’ve heard proponents of grain-free diets argue that dog saliva does not contain the enzyme amylase, which is needed to break down carbohydrates from grains. While it is true that dogs don’t make salivary amylase, their pancreas does make the enzyme, and since dogs tend to swallow large chunks of food without chewing, the need for salivary amylase is questionable. The lining of the dog’s small intestine also produces brush border enzymes that are responsible for much of the carbohydrate digestion.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though dogs digest carbohydrates quite well and grains are a healthy source of carbohydrates for most dogs, pet food manufacturer can overdo it. Carbohydrates are cheaper than animal-based sources of protein, so the financial lure of maximizing the former while minimizing the latter is hard for some companies to resist. If what you’re looking for is a low-carb, high protein dog food, you need to be looking at the guaranteed analysis on the back of the bag rather than the marketing hype on the front.

A food’s carbohydrate percentage does not have to be included in the guaranteed analysis, but it’s quite easy to estimate. Add up the percentages for crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and ash and subtract the result from 100%. The result is a ballpark figure for the food’s carbohydrate percentage. If a number for ash is not provided, use 6% as an estimate for dry food and 3% for canned.

If you want to compare dry and canned foods, you’ll probably need to do a bit more math because most companies report their guaranteed analysis on an as fed rather than dry matter basis.

  1. Find the percent moisture and subtract that number from 100. This is the percent dry matter for the food.
  2. Divide your carbohydrate percentage by the percent dry matter and multiply by 100.
  3. The resulting number is the carbohydrate percentage on a dry matter basis.

Analyzing a food’s guaranteed analysis is not as simple as buying into the buzz around grain-free, but the work will let you make an informed decision about what to feed your dog.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372