With recent outbreak of a rare strain of canine influenza virus (CIV) in Chicago, animal guardians are left asking if they may catch the flu from their canine companions. The answer is a resounding no. Although viruses of this class have been known to mutate and cross species lines over time as they adopt evolutionarily, at this time there is no evidence that canine influenza is a risk to humans at all.
This disease was first characterized back in 2004, when racing greyhounds became infected with a new form of influenza virus that had possibly mutated from an equine influenza virus in horses housed nearby these stressed racing dogs. While the form of that disease during the 2004 outbreak was quite severe and unusual, since that time there have been very sporadic, milder occurrences of this disease. This typically occurs under conditions of crowding and congregations of dogs (i.e. shelters, kennels, boarding facilities, dog parks, etc.), with the vast majority of dogs showing only mild symptoms of upper respiratory disease with a very low mortality.
Typically most dogs recover uneventfully on their own over 2 to 3 weeks, as antibiotics do not kill the virus, and there are no approved anti-viral medications for this disease in dogs. While antibiotics are often used to treat secondary bacterial infections, it is more important to maintain good husbandry and sanitation, as well as proper nutritional and immune support in limiting the severity and spread of disease.
As with most viral conditions of both people and animals, in my clinical experience and opinion, immune supplements and/or supportive holistic measures to boost immunity do a much better job at limiting and preventing infection than do any pharmaceuticals or drugs. While some veterinarians recommend an injectable inactivated vaccination to those pets at risk under the above situations of close contact amongst dogs, I am not convinced that the data shows any true protective benefit in vaccinated pets; as well, I am concerned about the long term effects and safety of this relatively new vaccination. At this time I do not recommend vaccinating dogs for flu.