Cats may be Contracting H1N1 Virus from Owners

December 11, 2009 | By Gabrielle Jonas | Category: Health & Wellness | 113 comments
Tags: cats, health & wellness

(ZT Pet News Photo courtesy ZT user, Danis.)

Three cats in two continents have contracted the influenza A from the H1N1 virus, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported Thursday. In all three cases, their owners had themselves suffered from flu-like symptoms or been infected with the H1N1 virus themselves. Two of the cats died within days of being brought to the hospital, and one has survived.

The most recent animal victim was a cat in Pennsylvania who died from the influenza A from the H1N1 virus, the AVMA reported Thursday. The 12-year-old domestic short-hair developed respiratory illness on November 3. Four family members in the household were ill with flu-like symptoms.

The cat was lethargic, had lost its appetite, and had labored breathing. The X-rays taken by the examining veterinarian revealed pneumonia. Despite treatment with antibiotics, the cat's pneumonia worsened, and it died three days later. Although nasal swabs collected shortly after death were negative for the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, samples collected later tested positive for the virus, and additional testing confirmed the presence of 2009 H1N1 influenza.

Within weeks of that death, on November 24 in Oregon, an eight-year-old spayed female cat brought to a veterinary clinic in Oregon was tested positive for the H1N1 influenza virus.

Despite supportive care and treatment with Tamiflu, the cat died the same day. The cat's owner had previously been ill with severe respiratory disease and was confirmed to be infected with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

The cat had displayed signs of severe weakness and pain, the Oregon state public health veterinarian said.

According to the owner, the cat had a history of allergies and sneezing with nasal discharge and chronic sinusitis. The cat was very weak and dehydrated, had abnormally low body temperature, as well as nasal discharge and blue-tinged mucous membranes. X-rays of the cat's chest revealed accumulated fluid and severe pneumonia.

And, the AVMA reported Tuesday, France's Director General of Health announced that a cat in France has tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 virus. The cat -- a five-year-old, neutered, domestic short-hair -- developed respiratory illness after two children in the household had been ill. The cat recovered in six days.

Last week, in early December, two cats from different households in Colorado tested positive for 2009 H1N1 influenza, according to Colorado State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The felines, aged ten and 11, are expected to recover, the laboratory said.

To date, most animals infected with H1N1 became infected after their owners had been ill with flu-like symptoms. With few exceptions, most animals have fully recovered.

Both cats were diagnosed with lower respiratory tract infections by Colorado veterinarians.

Additional blood serum confirmation testing from Iowa State University confirmed that the cats have the pandemic H1N1 strain. Veterinarians believe that both of the cats became ill with H1N1 after their owners contracted the virus.

One cat has been ill since early October and one early November. Both cats received antibiotics as a precaution against secondary bacterial infections.

“These cases serve as a reminder to pet owners to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible if their pet seems ill," said Kristy Pabilonia, a veterinarian and expert on H1N1 testing in animals at Colorado State University.

The H1N1 flu has also been identified in ferrets in the United States, so any companion animal that appears to have the flu should get immediate attention, she added.

At least five ferrets have been confirmed to have H1N1, four in Oregon and one in Nebraska. In addition to receiving veterinary attention, cats and ferrets with H1N1 should get plenty of rest, food and fluids.

And though pet birds have been susceptible to other strains of the flu, there have been no confirmed cases of H1N1 in those animals.

So far, there have been no reported cases of H1N1 in dogs in the United States. However, there have been two confirmed cases of H1N1 in dogs in China, according to Xinhuanet, a Chinese media outlet.

Xinhuanet reported on November 28 that two dogs had tested positive for the H1N1 influenza virus. The cases were enough for China's Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing to call for intensified monitoring and investigation of A/H1N1 flu in animals.

The veterinary clinic of College of Veterinary Medicine at the China Agricultural University had reported that two out of 52 samples from sick dogs were tested positive for A/H1N1 flu virus, the ministry said. Analysis of genetic composition found the virus detected in the samples and those found on human A/H1N1 flu cases were "99 percent homologous" -- meaning they were comprised of almost identical genetic material.

Pets are exposed to H1N1 the same way people are: through fluids released when someone sneezes or coughs. Therefore, Pabilonia of Colorado State University recommends they practice "social distancing" with pets. People who are ill should wash their hands before handling pets or, better yet, entrust someone else with their feeding and care.

Pets who are exhibiting respiratory compromise and are lethargic should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible, Pabilonia said. And, just as important, owners need to alert their veterinarians if the pet has been exposed to a human with influenza.

Possible 2009 H1N1 Influenza Symptoms in Cats and Ferrets:

The only symptoms of the H1N1 Flu in pets are those they would display from any respiratory illness. Those signs of respiratory illness can include:

* lethargy

* loss of appetite

* fever

* runny nose and/or eyes

* sneezing or coughing

* difficulty breathing

Dogs currently have their own flu virus, the H3N8 influenza (canine influenza) virus, spreading between dogs only. Dogs infected with the canine influenza virus can display symptoms similar to those of 2009 H1N1; fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, and runny nose.

There is no cause for panic and extreme measures, experts advise. People are much more likely to catch the 2009 H1N1 flu from an infected person than from an animal. So far, all pets infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus became infected from being around their ill owners.

Source: American Veterinary Medical Association

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Comments (107)

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6 years ago

This is horrible. not only is it a nasty thing but it is between people, dogs and cats.. so sad

Good Point | Reply ›

daryl b.

daryl b.
6 years ago

i hope they areworking on a vacination for cats too

Good Point | Reply ›

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