People love them, cuddle with them, invite them into their beds and get covered with slobber — all for the sake of puppy love. But when dogs get sick with a virus like the flu, the question is can they pass it to humans?
If you’ve seen “Isle of Dogs,” the stop-motion animation movie where a mayor banishes all dogs because they carry “dog flu,” you might have wondered: is that real? According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, yes, and strains of dog flu have been reported across the U.S.
Influenza can affect dogs and it’s different from human strains.
The first identified case of dog flu in the U.S., also known as canine flu, happened in March of 2015 in Chicago, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.
It is a flu virus —- a respiratory disease — that can easily be spread between dogs. Like human flu, there are different types of flu viruses affecting dogs. It is believed to have spread from horses to dogs.
Like people, not all dogs experience symptoms, and, like humans, most dogs recover within a few weeks. The flu is spread amongst dogs, so your dog should not play with sick dogs. If you are concerned with the health of your pooch, you should contact a vet.
Veterinarians can determine whether or not dogs should be tested for canine flu viruses.
Anti-flu medication that people use, like Theraflu or anti-virals, are not yet approved for dogs. The best help is giving dogs good nutrition and hydration so their immune systems can fight the flu. Vets can prescribe other medications when necessary.
The viruses that infect dogs are different than the seasonal flu that spreads in people. There have been no reported cases of people becoming infected with a dog flu virus in the U.S. or the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When a flu has “jumped” from another species to humans, it has come from birds and pigs.
While no cases of human flu originating from dogs have been reported, the increase in types of viruses increases the risk.
“The diversity in dogs has increased so much now that the type of combinations of viruses that can be created in dogs represent potential risk for a virus to jump to a dog into a human,” Dr. Aldofo García-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, told ABC News.
He said dog flu going to another species “is rare and not predictable,” but it’s not impossible, and the dog flu add to the risk of pandemic flu.
“At the moment, the chance of infecting a human is very low as we have not seen any human infections yet,” Carcia-Sastre said, but, “generation of influenza virus diversity in animals increases the potential for further evolution — and generation of pandemic viruses.”
Viruses, such as the flu, are always mutating. It’s always a concern for virologists that an animal flu virus could change so that it could infect people, but the CDC says there is no evidence of the dog flu infecting humans, much less any pandemic potential, as of now.
Enjoy walking dogs in the park and playing at home, but stay cautious in environments where dogs mingle. Avoid dogs that are sneezing, especially those who do not cover their nose.
Eric M. Ascher, D.O., is a third-year family medicine resident from New York working in the ABC News Medical Unit.