Key to the worrying prediction is the increasing diversity of flu within dogs and new evidence that the virus can jump from pigs into canines.
Five years ago, scientists uncovered viruses jumping between birds and dogs.
The researchers sequenced complete genomes for 16 influenza viruses sampled from 800 dogs in Southern China between 2013 and 2015.
“What we have found is another set of viruses that come from swine that are originally avian in origin, and now they are jumping into dogs and have been reassorted with other viruses in dogs,” says Adolfo García-Sastre, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai in New York.
The next question is whether this mix of flu strains that develops in dogs is going to be harmful to the human population if it ever makes the leap across – and we can’t rule that out, considering how much time people and canines spend together.
Another caveat is that for a pandemic to occur, the virus strain that jumps from dogs to humans would also have to be easily transmissible between people.
“The diversity in dogs has increased so much now that the type of combinations of viruses that can be created in dogs represent potential risk for a virus to jump to a dog into a human.”