Your Avian Influenza questions answered.
We have all heard about avian influenza for a long time now. But suddenly, with this disease striking its first pet cat casualty in the Western Hemisphere in February, there is a new wave of pet owner questions and concerns. Here is a compilation of information from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Cornell Feline Health Center.
Can the H5N1 strain of avian influenza be transmitted from birds to cats?
Yes. This scenario has been documented in research studies in which domestic cats were fed H5N1-infected raw chicken. Also, in February 2006, a domestic cat in Germany died from avian influenza. The cat was located in a region where more than 100 wild birds had died from the virus. It is suspected that this cat contracted the virus from feeding on an infected bird. In addition to Germany, domestic cat infections have been reported in Austria, France and Bankok.
Living in North America, how much of a threat does avian influenza pose to my cat?
There currently are no reported cases of avian influenza in North America. Thus, there is no immediate threat to cats contracting avian influenza in North America. The Cornell Feline Health Center further advises, “If H5N1 or an equally harmful influenza virus were to appear, the safeguards established by governmental agencies should help prevent the kinds of outbreaks that have occurred in other parts of the world. For these reasons, the risk to cats in this country is considered very low.”
If avian influenza reaches North America, will my cat be at risk? How can I protect my cat?
In the event that avian influenza reaches North America, the likelihood of feline infection is low. To further minimize the risk of exposure, pet owners might consider the following measures:
- Do not let your cat roam unattended outdoors. The great outdoors can present a number of dangers to unattended cats, including infectious disease, the possibility of being hit by a vehicle, and possible animal cruelty. Cats can acquire an infectious disease by coming into contact with and/or eating wildlife, including birds.
- Keep cats away from birds. If you take your cat outside for a supervised walk or excursion, keep him away from birds and their droppings.
- Avoid raw-poultry diets. Remove any raw poultry, including eggs, from your cat’s diet. The feeding of raw, infected poultry has been linked to domestic cats acquiring avian influenza in experimental studies. Raw food can be a dangerous diet for pets (raw-food diets have been linked to the spread of Salmonella infections in cats).
Again, please note that these are additional safeguards, as the avian influenza risk to cats in North America is considered very low.
Can avian influenza be transmitted from cats to people?
There currently are no reports of this occurring. According to the World Health Organization, there is no present evidence that domestic cats play a role in transmitting the H5N1 virus to humans.
Can an H5N1-infected cat transmit the virus to another cat?
Yes. Published studies have shown that domestic cats infected with the virus can transmit it to other cats. This most likely occurs through feces, urine and secretions from the respiratory tract.
What about feral cat colonies? Could avian influenza present a risk to this population of cats that live in the wild?
Conceivably, yes, avian influenza could present a risk to this group of cats. Given that feral cats are known to feed on wildlife, including birds, this could pose a risk to cats located within infected areas. Although this scenario is conceivable, currently there are no known reports of avian influenza running rampant among feral cat colonies located within infected regions.
Is there a vaccine to protect my cat against H5N1 avian influenza?
There currently are no vaccines available to protect cats from this strain of avian influenza.
What are the symptoms I should look for?
While there are currently no reported cases of H5N1 in North America, infected cats are known to exhibit identical symptoms as infected humans. This may include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases, and other severe and life-threatening complications.
As part of its commitment to high quality care, AAHA provides its accredited hospital members with the most recent developments on infectious disease outbreaks. This information assists your veterinarian with advising you of any special considerations that may apply for your pet. Please note that avian influenza is an emerging issue, and Healthypet.com will continue to publish updates as any new information develops. For more information on this and other infectious diseases, and how they might affect your pet, contact your veterinarian.
Related links on avian influenza:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service