Risk Management During Canine Influenza Outbreaks


By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Do you remember the Great Canine Influenza Outbreak of 2015? (It was horrible.) Thankfully, we’ve had only a few limited outbreaks so far this year, but it still pays to be vigilant about risk management so that we don’t end up with shuttered boarding facilities, overwhelmed veterinary hospitals, and very sick dogs.  

There are two different dog flu viruses: H3N8 (first reported in the U.S. in 2004, with a vaccine available since 2010) and H3N2 (first reported in the U.S. in early 2015, with a vaccine available since late 2015). H3N8 was originally an equine flu virus that jumped to dogs; H3N2 was originally an avian flu virus. There is no evidence that either strain can be transmitted to humans.

Everyone with a dog who goes potty outside will run the risk of meeting another dog who may be currently asymptomatic for the flu, but still contagious. Here are some tips for managing these interactions in a way that will minimize the chances of your dog becoming infected.

  • No greetings! There is a 2-4 day incubation period for canine influenza, and that perfectly healthy looking dog may be shedding the virus all over the place. No greetings means no nose-to-nose, no saliva exchange, and no butt sniffing.  Since the virus is exchanged through respiratory secretions, stay out of sneezing range. If you live in an elevator building, pick up your dog and carry him outside if he’s small enough; this will keep him out of range of other dogs and away from infected surfaces.
  • Keep your dog under control at all times. This means a 6’ leash, shortened as much as possible when passing other dogs. If you’re using a 26’ flexi-leash, you’re not in control of your dog. If you think you don’t need to keep your dog on a leash because “he always listens to you”, then think again. You may be willing to risk your own dog’s health by letting him roam untethered, but it’s unfair to other owners to let your dog be Patient Zero just because you think he should be a free agent.
  • Good hygiene is your friend. Wash your hands, wipe your shoes, and clean your surfaces, especially if you have contact with other dogs.

    CIV can be spread by direct contact with infected dogs, by contact with contaminated objects, and by moving contaminated objects between infected and uninfected dogs. If you have a multi-dog household, take care of the healthy dogs before touching the sick ones, and keep them apart as much as possible.

  • Evaluate your risk. Canine flu shots are considered “lifestyle” vaccinations, and are highly recommended for dogs who go to daycare, boarding, dog parks, or play groups. A single dog who rarely leaves the yard will be at considerably less risk for infection.
  • Vaccinate. Whether you have a stay-at-home or highly social dog, ask your vet about vaccinations. It’s a two step shot (an initial shot and a booster a few weeks later), and if your dog isn’t already sick it can help prevent or mitigate the effects of the flu. Remember that the vaccination for H3N2 has only been available since November 2015, so if your dog was vaccinated prior to that, he will only have protection against H3N8.

For more information about canine influenza, see articles on the AVMA and CDC websites. 


Be prepared for medical emergencies! Register for our DOGSAFE Canine First Aid & CPR course, Sunday, April 10, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. 

Join our FREE webcast on March 24, 2016 10:30am CDT: Stay! Increase Your Staff Retention (and Happiness). Register here!