The newest Wes Anderson film, Isle of Dogs, paints a bleak future. Taking place in the near-future of a fictional Japan, the film depicts the most horrifying dystopian society ever seen on screen. Although there is no overly-oppressive government, robots run amok, nor children forced to hunt each other to survive, there is instead something far more terrifying: an absence of dogs. Due to an outbreak of dog flu, all dogs in the city of Megasaki have been exiled to Trash Island, where they live out their lives free of human contact. But is dog flu real like in Isle of Dogs, and will it ultimately lead to the separation of humans from their furry friends?
There is actually such a thing as dog flu, but don't start planning to mount a rescue operation to Trash Island just yet. Coincidentally, there was even a bit of a panic about the illness earlier this year, with a Newsweek article from January describing the virus as "highly contagious" and noting that it was spreading across the U.S. The disease spreads from canine to canine via coughing, sneezing, and barking, and causes similar symptoms as a human flu, such as fever, coughing, and nasal discharge. If left untreated, the illness can be fatal, as it can lead to pneumonia or other infections, according to The Verge. On its own, however, the flu isn't considered very dangerous to dogs, with a mortality rate as low as one percent and most dogs recovering on their own in two to three weeks. The disease has not been shown to be contagious to humans, meaning there's no reason to quarantine dogs à la Isle of Dogs.
There are actually two different strains of the flu virus that affect dogs, according to the Center for Disease Control. The first is H3N8, which is also known as the horse flu virus since it's been known to exist in horses for over four decades. The virus eventually spread to dogs, with the first example appearing in greyhounds in 2004. The second type of dog flu developed more recently. A strain of the more common H3N2 virus, which started as an avian flu, has also adapted recently to infect dogs as well. This version was first seen in dogs in 2007 in South Korea, and first appeared in dogs in the U.S. in 2015, according to the CDC. It has also recently spread to cats.
As far as treating your fur babies if they become sick, the CDC recommends supportive care that includes symptom-relieving medications and fluids. If the flu causes secondary bacterial infections, then antibiotics can be prescribed. And if you're really worried about your dog contracting the illness, there are also vaccines available for both H3N8 and H3N2.
In Isle of Dogs, dog flu is shown to develop into snout fever, which causes a host of other troubling symptoms, including excessive aggression — one of the main reasons for the dogs' deportation in the film. Thankfully, there is no such thing as snout fever, and dog flu does not make dogs more aggressive. If anything, it makes them less aggressive due to the decreased appetite and overall feeling of malaise that occur with the illness. And with the real dog flu, not all dogs even show any signs of the illness, acting essentially as carriers for the disease while continuing to live their happy dog lives in a state of oblivion.
Isle of Dogs paints a pretty bleak picture of dog flu, but the truth is far less scary. Yes, dogs can get the flu, but there's absolutely no reason for them to be exiled to a floating garbage dump if they do.