Devoted to More Wags and Purrs.
Can My Pig Catch Dog Flu From My Bird?
By Michael J. Rumore, D.V.M. 
published in the Speaking of Pets section, January 13, 2010, Tampabay News Weekly
Influenza, referred to as the flu, is a virus known to most species. It causes respiratory symptoms in most individuals and is spread through contact or droplets in the air.

Despite the fact that the virus is relatively easy to kill, it is still highly contagious, and potentially fatal, especially for the young, elderly, or those with a compromised immune system.

Because it is a virus, antibiotics have no affect on them, although some of the newer anti-viral drugs may help.

Most species have their own flu virus; besides human flu, there is a bird flu, dog flu, swine flu, horse flu and even mink, seal and whale flu.

While most influenza viruses are very contagious among their own species, they do not jump species, which is why the current swine flu is so frightening. Just as happened with the bird flu scare in 2006, the swine flu mutated and was able to jump to a new species – humans.

The mutated H1N1 virus became a concern when it became very contagious for people because humans have no history of exposure to it. Because we have no natural immunity to this virus, the chance of catching it and becoming sick is much higher. This scenario was made even worse for pet owners when it was found that several ferrets, cats and dogs have contracted H1N1 from their owners. For some of the cats and ferrets, the infection was fatal. While there is no vaccine for animals for H1N1, there is a vaccine for people. The best protection for our pets may be protecting ourselves by vaccinating and careful, regular hand washing. Additionally, it is currently recommended that if you do catch H1N1, that you limit your direct contact with your pets until recovered. There have been no reported cases of people catching the swine flu from their pets yet, and hopefully there never will be.

The dog flu, H3N8, affects only dogs. It may initially show symptoms like any other respiratory disease, such as bordetella or kennel cough. The added concern with dog flu is that there is a 5 percent to 8 percent chance of catching a fatal secondary pneumonia. The dog flu was originally discovered in 2004 at a dog track in Florida, but has not yet directly hit Tampa Bay. The most common recommendation is to vaccinate dogs who have the potential to be exposed when they visit dog parks, training or boarding facilities, or groomers. The dog flu, while highly contagious for dogs, has not “jumped species,” and therefore remains a dog only problem.

Since the species of these viruses can shift, we often refer to them by their numbers. The numbering of the different influenza A viruses is related to the large proteins found in their outer wall, known as hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). These proteins can fall into several categories, which is why swine flu is called H1N1 (type 1 hemagglutinin, type 1 neuraminidase) while dog flu is called H3N8 and bird flu in H5N1.

It seems the more we learn about influenza, the more complicated it becomes. The best course of action to take to protect our pets and ourselves is to vaccinate when appropriate, wash our hands regularly or use hand sanitizer when washing is not possible. We may not only be saving our own health, but the health of our four-legged friends as well.