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What is the Dog Flu?

What is the Dog Flu and should you be worried?

The “dog flu” or canine influenza is going around in the Chicago area and of course spreading to nearby areas with a confirmed case in Madison, Wis.

My parents and their two dogs live in Wisconsin, so I’m curious if they should be concerned about the dog flu.

Most news stories are reporting there have been about 1,000 cases of dog flu in the Chicago area and 5 deaths.

OK, so is the dog flu anything to worry about?

My approach to nearly every health issue with dogs and people is to use common sense. Dog flu is nothing to freak out over, even though the media love to use hysteria and fear.

Do your own research on dog flu and talk with your dog’s vet if you have any concerns. To help get you started, I’ve done a little research myself …

What is the dog flu?

Canine influenza is a virus that primarily affects the dog’s respiratory system and is highly contagious, according to PetMD.

Some infected dogs with have mild symptoms while others will have more severe symptoms, but the most obvious symptom will be a “moist” cough.

General symptoms, according to PetMD, could include:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • fever
  • general discomfort

The more severe symptoms could include a high fever and lead to pneumonia, according to PetMD.

My dog Ace was diagnosed with pneumonia in 2011. He was so sick we had to take him to the emergency clinic. No fun.

What is Dog Flu

Are dog flu and kennel cough (bordetella) the same thing?


Dog flu is a virus.

Bordetella (kennel cough) is caused by the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica.

However, a lot of dog owners, vets and others use “kennel cough” to group together flu viruses and bacterial infections.

For the sake of this post, when I say kennel cough, I am referring specifically to bordetella.

Symptoms of the dog flu and kennel cough can be very similar, however a dog with the flu is more likely to have a moist cough while a dog with kennel cough is likely to have a dry cough, according to PetMD.

Sometimes dogs infected with kennel cough also become infected with a flu virus, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance. This is another reason why they’re often grouped together under “kennel cough.”

Will the kennel cough (bordetella) vaccine protect my dog from the dog flu?


The reason for this is because the intranasal bordetella vaccine usually contains a strain of bordetella and a flu virus, according to VPI. Because of this, it will protect your dog from some strains of dog flu.

The vaccine is called the bordetella vaccine because bordetella is the most common cause of upper respiratory infections in dogs, according to VPI.

How is dog flu treated?

Most dogs should recover from the dog flu on their own as it runs its course.

Sometimes a vet will prescribe antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection or if bronchitis or pneumonia have developed, according to VPI.

Remember, antibiotics won’t do anything for a virus.

For most dogs, the best thing to do is provide them with rest and to keep them isolated from other dogs for a few weeks, if possible.

Common sense for preventing dog flu

I’m not worried about my dog getting sick from the dog flu or bordetella. If he does, he does. He’ll get better with rest.

There are always risks to consider anytime you bring your dog out in public. Dog parks, training facilities and pet friendly stores are obviously places where your dog is more likely to catch the dog flu or bordetella.

In places like Chicago where there has been an increase in dog flu cases, use your best judgement before visiting dog parks and pet friendly stores.

If I lived in Chicago, I would probably keep my dog out of dog parks for a few weeks, but I would continue our normal walks throughout the neighborhood.

If your dog is very old or has a weakened immune system for various reasons, you may want to be a little more cautious.

As for puppies, I believe it’s important to socialize, walk and train them even if there’s a small risk they’ll get sick. But, everyone has to make their own choices. (See my post Should I walk my puppy before she’s had her shots?)

Let me know what you think, especially if you live in Chicago or other areas of the Midwest.

Are you concerned about the dog flu?

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Is Kirkland dog food making dogs sick?
Will my dog get sick from salmonella?

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Monday 13th of April 2015

My dog actually just came down with kennel cough. The vet didn't bring up the possibility of dog flu (which I've actually never heard of) so I guess he's not too concerned about it, either. We are in California, though. It sounds like a lot of fuss about nothing, like every time there's an outbreak of some human flu and people start acting like the very world is coming apart at the seams.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 14th of April 2015

Oh man, sorry to hear he came down with kennel cough. Since he's a generally healthy guy, hopefully he'll get over it quickly. Ace had it when he was 1 or 2. I think he got it at the training class we went to, but who knows.


Monday 13th of April 2015

Thanks for clearing an issue up...that the flu is different from Kennel Cough. Like you mentioned, I've read some articles that lumped them all together under the Bordetella illness. I would probably be a little freaked out if Haley starting showing flu symptoms, because she's never had an issue with coughing or sneezing before, but I'm not too worried about her contracting it, even living here in the Midwest (Ohio).

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 14th of April 2015

Ace has had kennel cough once and he did get pneumonia another time, which was scary for me because he got so sick with a fever, etc. He received antibiotics for that and recovered just fine though.


Monday 13th of April 2015

We aren't too worried about it as we are healthy and don't have a lot of interaction. We are worried about some of our upcoming events possibly getting cancelled because of it, but time will tell. Unless your dog is real young, old, or ill, I think it is just like human flu strains and it will pass. Hopefully it will subside and the hype too. If it does start appearing in MN, Bailie will probably not go to daycare for a few weeks, but that would be the only thing we would change.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 13th of April 2015

Yeah, that would probably be a good idea if it does start appearing in Minnesota. Hopefully it won't.