On Nov. 2, test results confirmed an H1N1 influenza infection in a pet cat living in Iowa, a revelation that startled pet owners nationwide. Health officials say it is likely that human family members transmitted the virus to the cat. Two members of the family had flu-like symptoms before their cat also showed signs of illness and was tested for H1N1 at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, with positive results. The good news is that all family members, including the cat, have now recovered.
- Louise Murray, DVM DACVIM
Infected humans are known to have previously transmitted H1N1 to both pigs and turkeys. The virus was first reported in humans in Mexico in March 2009. Subsequent reports of infected swine and poultry in multiple geographic areas followed. In addition to the Iowa cat, several pet ferrets were also recently infected with the virus by humans, with one fatality thus far of a ferret in Nebraska.
So how can we protect our pets and ourselves from H1N1? People with flu-like symptoms should use similar precautions recommended to minimize transmission of the virus between humans, such as washing hands thoroughly (particularly before handling the pet or preparing food), covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding close contact with the pet. It is common for cats to share beds and other furniture with humans, and this should be avoided during an illness.
To date, there is no evidence of a dog being infected with H1N1, but commonsense measures should be taken with all pets to decrease the likelihood of potential virus transmission. That includes keeping pets out of the bedroom of anyone suffering from a flu-like illness and keeping them away from contaminated objects. Pet owners concerned about an animal who is exhibiting signs of illness after a human family member has suffered from influenza should contact their veterinarian. Potential symptoms could include lethargy or respiratory signs such as coughing, sneezing or difficulty breathing.
More good news: There is no evidence to date of any human being infected with influenza by a pet, or of infection being transmitted from one cat to another, or from a dog to a cat, or vice versa.
Louise Murray, DVM DACVIM, is director of medicine at the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital.
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