You wash your hands well, and avoid that annoying co-worker who refuses to cover up when he sneezes. You make sure your family gets flu vaccinations. But what about the family pets? Up until a month ago, vets were saying that the 2009 H1N1 virus appeared to present little risk of infecting dogs and cats and other companion animals.
However, viruses can mutate quickly, and the outcome of this flu season remains unpredictable.
On November 4, the first documented case of H1N1 was confirmed in a 13-year old indoor cat in Iowa. In a report for The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope noted that felines can get avian flu from birds, and canine flu, which affects dogs, originated in horses. Also at risk at this time to H1N1 are ferrets: one in Oregon and one in Nebraska have also tested positive for H1N1.
Since the other popular name for this viral variant is Swine Flu, we’re reminded that pigs and humans have shared a susceptibility to this same virus too.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has offered answers to these FAQs:
What animals can be infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus?
In addition to humans, live swine and turkeys, we know that ferrets (which are highly susceptible to influenza A viruses) and a domestic cat have been infected with 2009 H1N1 virus. CDC is working closely with domestic and international public and animal heath partners to continually monitor this situation and will provide additional information to the public as it becomes available.
How do companion animals become infected with 2009 H1N1?
All available information suggests that the ferrets and domestic cat with 2009 H1N1 infections acquired the virus through close contact with ill humans. Transmission of 2009 H1N1 virus from humans to animals appears similar to human-to-human transmission.
Can I get 2009 H1N1 influenza from my pet?
Available evidence suggests that transmission has been from ill humans to their companion animals. No evidence is available to suggest that animals are infecting humans with 2009 H1N1 virus.
What do I do if I am sick with flu-like symptoms and I have pets?
If you are sick with influenza-like-illness, take the same precautions with your pets that you would to keep your family and friends healthy: cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands frequently, and minimize contact with your pets until 24 hours after your fever is gone.
What should I do if I suspect my pet has 2009 H1N1 influenza virus?
If members of your household have flu-like symptoms, and your pet exhibits respiratory illness, contact your veterinarian.
Is there a vaccine available for my pet?
Currently, there is not a licensed and approved 2009 H1N1 vaccine for companion animals. (There is a canine influenza vaccine, which protects dogs from the H3N8 canine flu virus, but it will not protect pets against the 2009 H1N1 virus and should not be used in any species other than dogs.)
How serious is this disease in companion animals?
Pet ferrets with naturally occurring 2009 H1N1 infection have exhibited illness similar in severity as seen with ferrets exposed to seasonal influenza viruses and 2009 H1N1 virus in laboratory settings, including sneezing, inactivity, and weight loss. The single confirmed cat exhibited respiratory illness and recovered with supportive care.
Note: Much of the information in this document is based on studies and past experience with seasonal (human) influenza. CDC believes the information applies to 2009 H1N1 (swine) viruses as well, but studies on this virus are ongoing to learn more about its characteristics. This information is provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
We’re avoiding getting ill in our household, but if it seems that any of us is coming down with a fever and flu, we’ll check in with our physician – and keep our distance from our four-footed pals. Be well!