While public health officials have been checking to make sure the food supply is safe from the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in dairy cows in multiple states, veterinarians and others have pondered the risk to house pets like cats and dogs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that H5N1 infection has been found in cats in the U.S., Poland, South Korea and France, including recent reports in Texas, where a number of cats were infected on several dairy farms, “suggesting the virus spread to the cats either from affected dairy cows, raw cow milk or from wild birds associated with those farms.”

According to U.S. News & World Report, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that deaths and neurological disease in cats have been widely reported around farms with outbreaks of the virus.” Additionally, the Daily Mail reported that two cats in South Dakota, with no apparent links to any cattle dairy products, also died from confirmed bird flu.

“The development could be significant because it suggests the virus is edging closer to humans,” the article reported.

Cats are reportedly susceptible to the virus, while infection in dogs is less common, but likely still possible.

Per the CDC, the cats had different degrees of symptoms, “including respiratory and neurological signs, and some had fatal outcomes.” The World Organisation for Animal Health reported that symptoms can develop a few days after exposure to the virus and some get only mild symptoms.

The CDC said it’s not likely that a human would become infected from a cat or dog, but agreed that it is possible, particularly “if there is prolonged and unprotected exposure to the animal.” Methods of possible transmission might include saliva, feces or other body fluids. Humans might be infected by inhaling infected droplets or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

American Humane, a nonprofit animal welfare group dedicated to protecting animals and certifying their humane treatment everywhere from movie sets to farms, among others, offers advice to pet owners on spotting signs of bird flu infection and preventing such infections in the first place. Deseret News asked the group’s chief veterinary officer, Tom Edling — who also has a Master of Public Health degree — about keeping pets safe.

What are the symptoms of avian flu in cats and dogs?

Every animal is different and will exhibit the illness in their own unique way. Signs usually develop within a few days of coming into contact with a bird carrying the virus. Some pets may show mild or no symptoms. Pet owners should be on the lookout for listlessness, loss of appetite, depression, fever and difficulty breathing.

Different communities likely have different exposure, but every state has birds and some wild animals that have been infected, even if just one or two. Does that mean that the risk might be nationwide for house pets?

Avian influenza has been reported in every U.S. state except Hawaii, along with many countries across the globe. The risk to household pets is nationwide, but manageable. The best way to keep your pets safe is to keep them inside your home. When you take pets outside, keep them away from wild birds and any animals that appear to be sick, injured or dead.

Should people take extra precautions for their own sake around their pets if the pets are in the yard or outdoors a lot?

Currently, the risk of pets transmitting the bird flu to humans is very low. However, while unlikely, it is still possible. Pet owners should keep their cats indoors whenever possible and be on the lookout for symptoms in their pet.

Related
New case of avian flu confirmed in Michigan dairy farmer

If you suspect bird flu, what should you do?

If you suspect your pet might have avian influenza, contact your veterinarian immediately. Keep your pet isolated from other animals and wear face masks and gloves when handling your pet.

If you encounter a bird or other wild animal and suspect they are infected, contact your local animal control to remove it.

Do most veterinarians know how to test for and treat avian influenza?

16
Comments

Your veterinarians will know how to test for and treat avian influenza. Currently, there is no specific antiviral medicine for bird flu in pets, so treatment is generally focused on relieving pain and other symptoms.

Humans have worried about milk and meat with the dairy cattle outbreak. Are there any concerns about cat food or dog food?

The virus that causes animal influenza is readily destroyed through cooking to temperatures necessary for food preparation. Pasteurized milk is safe for consumption, as is meat that is thoroughly cooked. The great news is that kibble and canned pet food are already heated to high enough temperatures to make them safe for consumption.

Remember, freezing does not kill the virus. If you are feeding your pets home-cooked meals, be certain to thoroughly cook all meat and dairy products prior to feeding them to your pet even if the food has been in a freezer.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.