You Can Give H1N1 Flu To Your Pets!
February 19, 2011
When I was in veterinary school, we were taught that dogs and cats did not share flu-like infections with their human companions. We thought that ferrets might be susceptible to getting flu from humans, but never dogs or cats, or so we were told.
In October of 2009, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory confirmed that a ferret had been infected with the 2009 strain of H1N1. Another was confirmed shortly thereafter. Both of these ferrets contracted the virus from their owners. OK, so no surprise – they were ferrets.
But, by November 2009 reports of cats being infected by their owners began to come in. To date, there have only been eleven cats reported to be infected with H1N1, so it is really rare, but it can happen. There have even been three reports of dogs being infected with H1N1 from humans. Two were in China (still unconfirmed by US gov’t) and one in New York state.
Interestingly, no cases were reported for a whole year, until this Valentine’s Day, when IDEXX Laboratories announced that the virus was confirmed in a 6-year old cat in Wisconsin. This cat and the other household cat were both euthanized after they developed severe respiratory infections. The owner of the cats had been ill with flu-like symptoms prior to the cat’s illness.
All reported cases of pets with H1N1 showed signs of respiratory inllness including lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, runny nose, runny eyes, sneezing, coughing or changes in breathing. Of the eleven cats, four recovered and five died of severe pneumonia. The other two were euthanized when they failed to respond to treatment. The dog in New York recovered.
It would be easy to confuse signs of the H1N1 virus with that of the H3N8 influenza virus (canine influenza) that dogs get. Even a simple case of kennel cough could be confused with the H1N1 virus. The big difference is that pets who contracted H1N1 lived with owners who had a bad case of the flu just before the pets got sick. It is quite possible that many pets get the flu virus, but show mild to no symptoms at all and are able to fight off the infection before we suspect anything is wrong.
You can help prevent your pets from getting sick with H1N1 by reducing his or her exposure to sick people. It is probably not a good idea to let your pet sleep with you if you have the flu. And, you should wash your hands well before and after feeding or playing with your pet. If you have had a flu shot this year, you have some protection against the H1N1 flu, but there is no H1N1 vaccination for dogs, cats or ferrets. Be sure to have your pet examined by a veterinarian if he or she shows any signs of respiratory infections, especially if anyone in your family has recently been sick with the flu. Testing is most accurate if it is done during the earliest stages of the disease, so don’t wait 3-4 days for your pet to see the veterinarian.
The good news is that there have been no reports of pets bringing the infection to us. It has always been the other way around. Pets are getting the H1N1 virus from humans, not visa versa. At least not yet.
For more information, talk to your veterinarian check out http://www.avma.org/public_health/influenza