Canine influenza

Implementing these alternative approaches will help you treat and prevent influenza in your patients.

The recent outbreak of a virulent canine type A flu virus (H3N2) has caused a great deal of alarm in the Chicago area. Originally an avian virus that came from Korea in 2007, it has adapted to affect both dogs and cats.

The virus causes upper respiratory signs – nasal discharge, cough, lethargy, decreased appetite and fever. It can progress to pneumonia and become life threatening. Not all dogs and cats show all signs.

Because this current outbreak is not from the H3N8 flu virus (which was originally a horse virus), the currently available canine flu vaccine may not provide any protection to the H3N2 virus causing the outbreak.

Pneumonia is biggest issue

The biggest concern with this particular virus seems to be how it opens the respiratory system to secondary bacterial infection, making bacterial pneumonia a more common sequelae to the initial virus. Antibiotics with good pulmonary activity are typically needed to help fight bacterial pneumonia (Baytril and Clindamycin seem to work well). Holistic practitioners have found additional help battling this condition by using nutrition, herbs and essential oils. Many alternative treatments can be used to help bolster the immune system and decrease the progression of the virus into pneumonia. It is reassuring to note that this is a seasonal flu virus, and so far, most animals have recovered well with sensible attention to their care using holistic and/or conventional treatments.

An integrative approach to prevention

• Avoid contact with animals that may be shedding the flu virus.

• Avoid unnecessary vaccines and topical flea and tick pesticides during a flu outbreak. Vaccines and pesticides can temporarily distract or decrease the function of the immune system.

• Feed a fresh, well-balanced diet, preferably raw and without chemicals, fillers and carbohydrates.

• Ensure the animal receives regular exercise.

• Consider supplements that help boost the immune system and fight inflammation, bacteria and viruses – these include turmeric, oregano, garlic and fish oils.

Alternative treatment options

When an animal is showing flu signs, conventional medical treatment will include antibiotics, cough medicine, subcutaneous fluids and B vitamins. Alternative medicine options include the following:

1. Homeopathy

Homeopathic viral nosodes, and other homeopathic combinations for flu and colds, like Oscillococcinum or Bryonia, are effective for reducing signs, lowering fever and improving upper respiratory condition. They are effective and safe – especially for cats. They include ingredients like Belladonna, Aconitium napellus, Echinacea angustifolia, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Gelsmium sempervirens, Ferrum phosphoricum and Influenzinum. Often, animals in an epidemic need the same remedy, so homeopaths find the genus epidemicus by listing the symptoms of all infected animals, then finding a remedy with which to begin treatment.

It’s sometimes necessary to find the simillimum, the matching remedy for each individual animal, to both deeply heal from the virus and build overall health.

2. Chinese herbs and other supplements

• Six Gentle Pets is a very effective Chinese herbal combination that can reduce phlegm and decrease coughing.

• Colloidal silver, either in a nasal spray or oral, may also be beneficial.

• Antibacterial and antiviral herbs and supplements can also be used separately.

3. Acupuncture

Acupuncture and aquapuncture (with Traumeel or vitamin B12) may be helpful for the immune system, but the contagious nature of this virus makes it difficult to recommend repeated vet visits. Points should be chosen as dictated by exam, and may also include BL13 (wind/cold in lung), LU7, 9, 10 (circulation/clearing/ fever lung), GV14, 20 (immune system), BL10 (local release of muscle tension from cough), 11 (lung), and LI11 (wind invasion).

4. Massage

Massage can often do what no medications can. It improves circulation, increases drainage of lymph and phlegm, and relieves pressure from inflammation. It also provides emotional support to an ailing animal. In addition to general massage techniques, animals can get relief from small circle massages around the eyes and face and over the neck, and from upward strokes across the thorax and ribs.

5. Steam with essential oils

To help decrease coughing, put the pet on a bed on the bathroom floor for a few minutes, with a hot shower running nearby. Put three to four drops of any of the following essential oils on a cotton ball, and put it in the bathroom too:

  • Thieves oil (also an effective antiseptic agent for surfaces)
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Sage oil
  • Oregano oil

The smell shouldn’t be too strong, just noticeable. Remember, an animal’s sense of smell is over 20x stronger than ours, so don’t stress him out with too strong a scent. Remember to caution the client against overheating the pet, especially if there is a fever involved.

Given that the current canine flu vaccine is ineffective against the new virus, implementing these alternative approaches will help you treat and prevent illness and infection in your patients.


Dr. Barbara Royal, is a Chicago veterinarian, IVAS certified acupuncturist, author and lecturer with extensive experience in veterinary care, including zoo, marine and wildlife animals, nutrition, acupuncture, emergency medicine, pathology, conventional practices, herbal remedies, physical rehabilitation techniques and alternative treatments. Dr. Royal was past president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association ( Author of The Royal Treatment, A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets, she is also is the founder and owner of The Royal Treatment Veterinary Center in Chicago.