Can you catch flu from your DOG? Scientists warn two strains of influenza could mix and form a dangerous strain spread by man’s best friend

  • Researchers found canine flu can mix with bird and swine flu to be contagious
  • Regular canine flu can kill dogs and cats but the danger to humans is unclear
  • Dr Daesub Song warned surveillance of dog viruses should be improved
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You’ve probably heard of bird flu, swine flu and even camel flu.

But fears are growing that you could catch influenza from somewhere else – your pet dog.

A study has found types of flu which spread between animals may actually be able to mutate and jump from canines or cats to people.

And because the strains are different to others, they could potentially spread quickly and uncontrollably among humans, scientists fear.

Researchers have warned people should keep a closer eye on dogs and other mammals we live close to in case of ‘interspecies transmission’ and even warned of a ‘pandemic’.

Strains of already-existing dog flu could combine with swine or bird flu to create a more contagious virus which could spread to humans, researchers said (stock image)

Researchers at Korea University in South Korea conducted a 10-year study to watch for strains of flu jumping between animals.

What they found adds to other research by scientists at Mount Sinai University in New York, published last year.

They discovered swine flu, which is currently ravaging pig farms in China and leaving huge amounts of meat unusable, and bird flu could spread to dogs.

And, in the dogs, it could mix with another strain of the viral illness which would make it much more likely to spread to people, who would be defenceless against it because it’s so new.

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‘Until now, dogs were considered neglected hosts in the field of flu research,’ said Dr Daesub Song, one of the researchers.

‘However, after the first report of interspecies transmission, surveillance of flu viruses from companion animals should be further strengthened.’

Dr Song and his team found bird flu or swine flu could be caught by dogs and mix together to mutate into a new strain of canine influenza called CIVmv.

CIVmv was found to be highly infectious to ferrets when passed on by dogs, the scientists found, suggesting it is more likely to be contagious for humans. 

The parts of cells which viruses bind to are similar in ferrets and humans, so they are considered the best way of testing how the pathogens will affect people. 

Cats can already catch canine flu, despite its name, and both animals spend huge amounts of time in close contact with humans, particularly in the Western world. 

When infected with the new strain, animals suffered from congested airways, coughing, runny eyes, sneezing, tiredness and reduced appetite. 

Canine flu can be deadly – it only kills a small percentage of dogs which catch it, but Dr Song said an outbreak he studied at an animal shelter killed 40 per cent of cats.

This strain of dog flu is expected to be more contagious but it isn’t clear whether it will be more deadly for the animals. 

Dr Song added: ‘Pre-existing CIV may recombine or reassort with human influenza viruses and give rise to novel viruses that could in turn lead to unique pandemics.’

Immune resistance to flu, and the ability to get over it quickly, is based on exposure  to the virus or similar strains in the past.

For example, if someone catches a strain of the flu they’ve already had there is a good chance they won’t become ill from it.

And because of the way viruses mutate over time, even exposure to an earlier version of a different virus could make someone more resistant to it.

Because of this, if people caught a combination of dog and bird or swine flu like nothing they had ever encountered before, they could be particularly vulnerable, the researchers said.

Dr Song will reveal his research at the Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference in Belfast in April. 

The team are working on a vaccine but the virus is fast-mutating, making this a difficult task.


The 1918 flu pandemic was unusually deadly and the first of two involving the H1N1 influenza virus.

It infected 500 million people globally, more than one-third of the world’s population, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic.

It resulted in the deaths of an estimated three to five per cent of the world’s population, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

Spanish Flu resulted in the deaths of an estimated three to five per cent of the world’s population, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. This image shows soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with the virus

Within months it had killed three times as many as World War I and did it more quickly than any other illness in recorded history.

Most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill juvenile, elderly, or already weakened patients.

By contrast, the 1918 pandemic predominantly killed previously healthy young adults.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimised early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States.

However, newspapers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in Spain.

This created a false impression of Spain as being especially hard hit, leading to the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

The close quarters and massive troop movements of World War I hastened the pandemic and probably both increased transmission and augmented mutation, researchers believe.

The true global mortality rate from the pandemic is not known, but an estimated 10 per cent to 20 per cent of those who were infected died.

This would lead to a death toll of between 50 to 100 million people.

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