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Flu- and Travel-season Risks for Pets & How to Minimize Them

By Dr. Patty Khuly

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Did you get your flu vaccine? Now that flu season is fully upon us, and many of us are already experiencing the bug’s bitter wrath, it’s time to ask: What about our pets? Are they at risk? Is there anything we can do to we protect them?

Can dogs and cats get the flu from humans and vice versa?

Here’s the deal: our current research shows that it’s tremendously unlikely you’ll be passing along any virus to your pets. While it’s theoretically possible for viruses to “jump” species (from human to dog or human to cat and vice versa), it’s considered very rare. But that doesn’t mean your pets aren’t free from an increased tendency toward flu season infections.

The Link Between the Flu and Travel

As it turns out, pets are at risk of flu-season related illness for one reason in particular: flu season coincides with travel season. The more we travel, the more our pets are subject to boarding-related infectious diseases and/or stress-related disorders.

Where do your pets stay while you’re traveling? If you’re like most people and you’re leaving for more than a couple of days, you’re unlikely to burden your friends or family with pet detail. Instead, you’re likely to consider a boarding facility like a pet hotel.

Pet hotels are increasingly fancy. They’re full of bells and whistles designed to keep your pets safe, disease free, and de-stressed. But the reality is that pets are housed with other pets. And since they’re not used to being around others, their immune system hasn’t been exposed to the full complement of simple cold-related diseases (not like we humans tend to be). Think of them more like kids in preschool. This means they have a tendency to catch colds and other simple communicable illnesses – more so when facilities are at full capacity during this time of year.

 

Can my dog or cat get a cold?

While dogs and cats can catch colds they’re usually no big deal. Most of them go away on their own, much like ours do. However, a small percentage of them can be serious. As with humans, even the simplest colds can become problematic for the very young and the very old. Short-snouted dogs and cats (like Bulldogs and Persian cats) are also predisposed to complications from simple colds.

Canine Influenza Concerns

In dogs, there’s also the true influenza virus infection to consider (the uncommon “dog flu”), which tends to require hospitalization and can even be deadly in some cases.

Stress-related Issues

Last but not least, there’s the simple stress of your absence to take into account. Whether they’re treated to a pet hotel or you manage to find (or hire) a kind soul to come stay with them at home, pets are susceptible to the possibility of a wide range of stress-related illnesses whenever their routines are interfered with.

This is especially true for cats, who can suffer urinary tract inflammation, gastritis, asthma episodes, upper respiratory virus reactivation (as with chronic herpesvirus infections), and inflammatory bowel issues when owners leave them behind (or, indeed, whenever any environmental change occurs). For dogs, bowel-related diseases are by far the most common, with simple diarrheal issues leading the way. Gastritis, which leads to grass-eating, poor appetite, and sometimes vomiting, is also a concern for sensitive dogs.

How to Prevent Seasonal Illnesses in Pets

Whether from stress or true infection, we can’t completely prevent these seasonal issues, but we can minimize them. Here’s a simple list of dos and don’ts:

DO: Make sure your pets are vaccinated against the most common communicable diseases.


In accordance with American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) vaccination guidelines, cats should receive FVRCP and rabies vaccines. Dogs should receive rabies, bordatella, and DA2PP (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and parvovirus vaccines). The canine influenza vaccine may also be recommended depending on your location.

DON’T: Board your pets at places where animals are packed into small cages side-by-side with little ventilation.


Please be sure you tour the facilities before leaving your pets there!

DO: Bring their favorite foods, toys, and other niceties from home.


This includes beds, and maybe even some of your clothing so they have something to comfort them that smells like you.

DON’T: Leave them for extended periods of time if you can help it.


The shorter the stay the fewer problems you’ll see.

DO: Try having a sitter stay at home with them instead of boarding.


If this is possible for you, try a sitter at home before boarding. This is especially important for pets who have already experienced ill effects of boarding during your previous vacations. Some are just more sensitive to travel season than others!

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