It’s been roughly a month since a few cases of the H3N2 influenza virus were reported in the Austin area, which is apparently not experiencing the kind of outbreak that made more than 1,000 dogs sick last spring in Chicago.
The dog flu usually comes with mild symptoms, but it tends to spread rapidly, prompting Austin veterinarians to urge owners to be aware but not panic.
“Owners should keep an eye out for symptoms,” said Linda Czisny, a veterinarian with the Austin Animal Center. Those symptoms are much like flu symptoms in humans: coughing, running nose, lack of appetite, fever and lethargy. Still, 80 percent of cases are mild, she said, and the risk of contracting the virus can depend on whether, for example, a dog rarely leaves the house or frequents dog parks.
“Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s lifestyle,” Czisny said.
The virus doesn’t cause flu in people, according to Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health.
It is difficult to tell exactly how many cases have been reported in the Austin area. There is no clearinghouse to which veterinarians or shelters must report cases, with individual clinics often sending samples to labs in other states.
Still, an outbreak would be obvious, Czisny said. She heard of a few cases in Williamson County in December, while John Faught, the owner and medical director of Firehouse Animal Health Center in the Westlake area, heard of one last month in Pflugerville.
The H3N2 virus is different from H3N8, which caused dog flu in Austin two years ago. In the case of H3N2, veterinarians have differing opinions on whether to vaccinate, Faught said. Vaccination requires two shots, which cost $25 to $35 apiece, roughly a month apart, he said. The vaccine is readily available. Only after the second shot is a dog protected — meaning that owners aren’t vaccinating against an immediate threat.
Though some veterinarians might prefer to be extra cautious, Faught said, he is recommending a wait-and-see approach rather than “starting to vaccinate (on a wide scale) just because.”