How Dog Flu Works

The Road Back to Health

Dogs with the flu need to take it easy, too, just as humans do.
Dogs with the flu need to take it easy, too, just as humans do.
© M. Rutz/Corbis

There is no way to treat the canine influenza virus itself [source: ASPCA]. Treatment is supportive – easing symptoms to keep dogs comfortable and providing an environment that helps the immune system work effectively [source: AVMA]. In mild cases of dog flu without secondary complications, this means rest, a warm and comfortable environment, and good nutrition, possibly including supplements [source: ASPCA]. A veterinarian might prescribe a cough suppressant and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin or ibuprofen [sources: AVMA, PetMD].In the case of secondary bacterial infection, the treatment is antibiotics [source: PetMD].

In almost all of these cases, the flu will just run its course. It can take up to a month for the cough to go away, but other symptoms are usually gone in a week or so [sources: AVMA, Lewis].

For dogs with severe flu, treatment is more involved and requires hospitalization. Depending on the dog's condition and on which secondary complications are present, treatment can include supportive care, powerful broad-spectrum antibiotics (for severe forms of pneumonia) and IV fluids (for dehydration) [source: PetMD].

The severe form can be fatal, but it's not technically the flu that causes death. It's a secondary complication, usually pneumonia [source: AVMA].

Overall, fatality rates for dog flu are pretty low. (They were much higher in the initially exposed racing greyhounds – 36 percent at one track -- than they are in the pet population [source: Iowa State].) According to most sources, 1 percent to 5 percent of infected dogs die, though some say it's as high as 8 percent [sources: VCA, Iowa State].

Of course, when we're talking about beloved pets, even 1 percent is a lot. There are things you can do to minimize your dog's risk, though, the most obvious being to vaccinate. But veterinarians don't recommend it for everyone.