Wes Anderson's 'Isle of Dogs' Puts a Spin on the Dog Flu

In Wes Anderson’s new new stop-motion animated movie, Isle of Dogs, a Snout Fever outbreak in the fictional Megasaki City has forced the authorities to send all dogs to Trash Island. Snout Fever, in the film, is an illness that accompanies canine flu, and it turns the good boys of the film into sniffling, mangy messes.

While watching the movie and pondering things like is this racial stereotyping, you might also find yourself wondering: Is canine flu real? It is, but it doesn’t much resemble what you see in the Isle of Dogs.

Warning! This post contains spoilers for Isle of Dogs.

"Isle of Dogs"
Spot is one of the flu-infected dogs sent to Trash Island.

The claim made by Megasaki City’s authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi is that the flu-infected dogs have to be deported before the illness “enters the human disease pool.” The characters who are a part of the “science party” claim that argument is unscientific and they have a pretty strong case. In real life, canine influenza is contagious among dogs, but to date, there’s no evidence of it passing from dogs to people.

Viruses that evolved to target dogs lack the ability to infect humans.

“In most cases viruses are specialized and or optimized for specific species,” explains U.C. Davis animal science professor Anita Oberbauer, Ph.D., to Inverse. “Viruses that evolved to target dogs lack the ability to infect humans. To alter that, the genes that govern infectivity would need to mutate for the dog flu to become contagious to humans.”

Isle of Dogs
Trash Island: Home of the sick dogs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dog flu is caused by specific Type A influenza. Overall, there are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. Humans get variations of A and B most winters, influenza type C infections can cause mild respiratory illness, and D primarily affects cattle and has yet to infect a human. The CDC states that, “the emergence of new and very different influenza A virus to infect people can cause an influenza pandemic.”

As of now, the versions of Type A influenzas dogs get, H3N8 and H3N2, have never infected people. But because they can become so dangerous if a mutation occurs, the CDC carefully monitors cases of dog flu. In general, the CDC states, “canine influenza viruses are considered to pose a low threat to humans” but the virus, which originated in horses, can spread between dogs. It’s unclear whether the virus in the movie can transmit to humans; it mostly seems like a conspiracy plot concocted by the city’s cat-loving mayor.

Not all dogs show signs of illness — unless the mass of sick pups in Isle of Dogs — but the ones that do can demonstrate a cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge, and a reduced appetite. While developing a dog flu serum is a central mission in the movie, in reality, that essentially exists. The first canine vaccine for H3N8 was approved in 2009, and there are several H3N8 vaccines available. In 2015, an H3N2 canine influenza vaccine entered the market as well.

Most dogs with treatment, recover within two to three weeks after treatment — unfortunately not the instantaneous result seen in the movie from the dog flu serum.

Isle of Dogs is out now Friday in a theater near you.