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November 30, 2009

Can Pets Catch Swine Flu?

Recent media reports of the 2009 H1N1 influenza (swine flu) virus cases in companion animals have many people concerned for the health of their pets. Here's what The HSUS has confimed about such cases, and what you can do to protect your pets from getting sick.

Ferrets and cats affected

At the end of October, a USDA laboratory confirmed a Nebraska ferret died of H1N1 infection. Around the same time, three ferrets living in one Oregon household were also diagnosed with H1N1 infections. 

Earlier this month, an Iowa veterinarian and the Department of Public Health both confirmed H1N1 flu in a domestic cat. The Iowa feline and the Oregon ferrets reportedly recovered from their illnesses. 

A Utah cat recently became the second cat who authorities confirmed was infected with H1N1 flu. In mid-November, an Oregon veterinarian announced that a pet cat suffering with pneumonia died of presumed—but not yet confirmed—H1N1 flu. The cat was one of four cats in a household who became ill one week after a child in the family had a flu-like illness. The other three cats were ill with upper respiratory signs, but recovered.

Causes and symptoms

It appears that all pets so far stricken with H1N1 flu were infected by human household members who had recently been ill with the virus. Animals who have contracted H1N1 influenza have shown the typical signs of respiratory illness such as lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, runny nose and eyes, sneezing, coughing and changes in breathing patterns including difficult or labored breathing.  

About dogs

Worldwide H1N1 flu has been confirmed in feline, canine, ferret, swine, and avian poultry species. To date there are no reports of companion animals infecting humans with H1N1. Two dogs in China reportedly were infected with H1N1. 

The canine influenza virus, H3N8, can be transmitted from dog to dog, and a canine H3N8 influenza vaccine is available. However, the H3N8 vaccine will not prevent H1N1 infection. 

The worst time to look for a new veterinarian is when your pet is sick. Here's how to plan ahead and choose wisely »

Skip the vaccines (for pets)

Neither the H1N1 vaccine, nor any other human influenza vaccine, is appropriate for non-human species and it should not be given to pets for any reason. The same caution holds true for human anti-viral formulations; they are generally not appropriate companion animal medications.

What you can do

Our animal companions live in very close proximity to us. The best way to keep pets safe from contracting influenza is to routinely use common sense preventive health measures within your household. These include practicing good hygiene by washing your hands often and certainly before and after contact with sick individuals and with your pets. Minimize your own and your pets’ exposures to flu sufferers and if you yourself are ill, limit contact with your pets to all but absolutely necessary interactions.

During this flu season, strive to keep your pets in overall good health with regular preventive health care and consult your veterinarian promptly if your pets show any signs of illness.

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