The winter months can be a breeding ground for viruses as people – and their pets – spend more time indoors, windows shut, heating appliances ramped up. The lack of sun and vitamin D weakens immunity, and though dogs and humans don’t share the same strains of flu, both are at risk of illness in these months.

What is canine influenza?

Dog flu, to give its more informal name, originated in horses and birds – depending on the strain in question. The former is known as H3N8, the latter H3N2, which was spied across America in 2015 and 2016.

H3N2 is more potent, because dogs that have contracted the strain remain contagious up to a month after they are infected. H3N8, by contrast, has an infectious period of only 10 days.

How does canine influenza pass?

Like all flus, the virus is designed to pass between hosts with extraordinary agility. Humans are often carriers for canine flu; after interacting with an infected dog you can then pass it on to another without ever exhibiting symptoms of your own.

It goes without saying that dogs in close proximity to one another are at risk as well.

Then there are common household objects, or objects you take on a walk. The dog collar, the dog bowl, the kennel can all be infected sites and should be washed regularly as a result.

Canine flu doesn’t affect every dog

If you’re wondering why one of your beloved pups is ill and the other isn’t, keep in mind that some dogs never display symptoms of illness. Just as a person might catch a virus but never feel or appear sick, dogs can simply act as hosts – the upshot is that they’re still infected but simply not showing it. They are, then, hosts for the virus, capable of passing it on to others.

Can humans get dog flu?

Influenza is animal specific, so dog flu is not the same as human flu. In short, humans can’t contract the virus from their dog. Ironically, and in what is a cruel twist of fate, we can pass our human strain on to our animals, so be aware of that the next time you’re sick. In particular, don’t plant a wet kiss on your dog’s coat or cheek when you’re under the weather.

What are the symptoms of dog flu?

Is your dog more tired than normal? Is he sneezing a lot, or coughing? Does he have runny eyes? This is a particularly clear indication that the virus has gotten to work. Is your dog wheezing when he breathes, or short of breath? Is he less keen on going for a walk, and spending more time asleep? Is your dog discharging mucus?

If you spot these symptoms, take your dog to your local veterinarian. They may well be running a high temperature as well, something the vet will confirm once you’re there.

Is it fatal?

ABC reports less that fewer than 10% of infected dogs lose their lives to the disease, and most dogs will get over the illness within a few days.

What are treatments?

A flu vaccine is a first line of defense but there is no actual cure-all treatment. Anti-inflammatories are used to treat fever but the best remedy is time: a comfortable, well-rested dog kept in isolation will likely get over the virus in no time at all

Prevention is number one

Always wash your hands after touching foreign dogs, and before touching your own. Keep kennels, collars and food bowls clean. Enquire after a vaccine for your dog to ward off flu (though this isn’t always going to work). Ensure your animal gets plenty of exercise and eats a good, balanced diet. Also: recognize that no animal is going to stay 100% healthy all their lives, and that viruses are part and parcel of life. At the first sign of any problems, consult your veterinary expert for next steps.