Health



November 5, 2009, 8:39 am

Can Pets Get Swine Flu?

Readers recently asked the Consults blog whether cats, dogs and other pets could get sick from swine flu:

Q.

Hello there. I have a question I have been asking myself and peers about the swine flu. My question is, can pets such as dogs, cats and birds receive the swine flu? I am deeply concerned and would really appreciate it if I could get an answer back. Thank you,
Lizzie

Q.

My son has the H1N1 virus. My boxer Samantha usually sleeps in his room. Should she continue to, or would it be a danger to my dog?
George Velez, Enfield, Conn.

Louise Murray, D.V.M.Robert Kim Louise Murray, D.V.M.

Dr. Louise Murray, director of medicine at the A.S.P.C.A. Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, responds:

A.

On Nov. 2, test results confirmed that H1N1 influenza, also known as the swine flu, had been transmitted to a household cat in Iowa by human family members ill with the virus. Two members of the family had flulike symptoms before their cat also showed signs of being infected.

The cat was tested for H1N1 at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and results were positive for the virus. All family members, including the cat, have since recovered.

Several pet ferrets also recently became infected with the virus by human family members. There has thus far been one fatality, of a ferret in Nebraska. H1N1 was previously known to have been transmitted to both pigs and turkeys by infected humans.

The H1N1 influenza virus contains genetic material from four different influenza viruses, including human, swine and avian influenza viruses. It was first reported in March of this year in humans in Mexico. The virus was reported in Canadian swine in May, and in turkeys in Chile in August. There have been subsequent reports of infected swine and poultry in multiple geographic areas.

People with flulike symptoms can protect their pets with the same precautions used to minimize transmission of virus between humans. Such measures include washing hands thoroughly, particularly before handling the pet or preparing food; covering coughs and sneezes; and avoiding close contact with the pet during the course of illness.

It is common for pets to share beds and other furniture with humans, and this should be avoided during an illness.

There is no evidence to date of a dog being infected with H1N1, but commonsense measures should be taken with all pets to decrease the likelihood of potential virus transmission, like keeping pets out of the bedroom of anyone with flulike symptoms and away from contaminated objects.

The specific symptoms seen in the Iowa cat were not described, but pet owners concerned about an animal who shows signs of illness after a human family member has come down with influenza should contact their veterinarian. Animals infected with H1N1 generally exhibit mild respiratory symptoms, or none at all.

There is no evidence to date that any human has been infected with influenza by a pet, or of infection being transmitted from one cat to another, from a dog to a cat, or vice versa.

To learn more about the cat with H1N1, see “The Cat Who Got Swine Flu,” on the Well blog.


16 Comments

  1. 1. November 5, 2009 10:53 am Link

    I was hoping that the recent Washington Post article about this was in error. My immediate fear is that idiots are going to get rid of their pets out of fear of catching it from THEM. Unless your cats are enrolled in a nursery school or something they aren’t going to encounter it, but some people……….

    I thought that viruses had to mutate before moving between species. I have many pets, and I am frequently doused with bodily fluids of one kind or another. I have never heard anything previously regarding cross-over in viruses other than rabies. I find this a little bit hard to believe.

    By the way, one of my co-workers is suspected of having swine flu, but he hasn’t been tested because it requires going to the E/R. Without serious symptoms, his doctor just started him on antivirals. And you can’t drive 1/4 mile around here without stumbling over a medical facility of some kind or another. This story came from IOWA! Unless one of the family members knows an exceptionally curious researcher at the University I can’t imagine the course of events which would have led to this. My vets would simple say “probably a Calici or Herpes virus, give them some anti-biotics to control secondary problems and keep them away from the other cats”. Testing for swine flu?

    — Mike C
  2. 2. November 5, 2009 11:59 am Link

    To Mike #1: viruses jump species a lot more often than you think. Especially between humans, primates and pigs, because they are so similar.

    — DM
  3. 3. November 5, 2009 12:04 pm Link

    I want to address Mike C’s comment ‘I thought viruses had to mutate before moving between species’. Viruses are always mutating; whether the right changes are taking place to allow cross-species transfer is the key. Many cross-species infections with viruses are dead-end infections. An example is H5N1 infection of humans from birds. In these cases the virus has not mutated so as to be subsequently transmitted from person to person. In the human to animal H1N1 infections cited in this consult, the infection is a dead end: it stops in the pet and isn’t transferred to other pets. The ‘right’ viral mutations to accomplish this have not occurred.

    — Vincent Racaniello
  4. 4. November 5, 2009 3:26 pm Link

    Several years ago, I took my kitten to the vet because she was sneezing and sniffling. As he was examining her, he asked me was if any human household members had colds… Of course, the answer was yes. He said it’s quite common for colds to be trasnmitted from human to cat and cat to human.

    Even though colds are caused by a different virus, it doesn’t surprise me that the H1N1 virus was found in a cat. I’m more surprised the cat was tested for H1N1.

    — Caddie
  5. 5. November 5, 2009 3:34 pm Link

    Why do some feel that this was the cat that transferred it to the human? It would make more sense that the human transferred it to the cat. Human have contact with others everyday whether you work have school or just children playing. The way some article are being written is sending the wrong message to people and it going to cost alot of pets there lifes. Its going to put some people in a panic. Alot more humans have had this virus then our pets lets read between the line here people. Lets not give another reason for people to abuse their pets or blame animals.

    — Dawn
  6. 6. November 5, 2009 6:08 pm Link

    Dawn #5 - did you even read the article? Or any of the comments so far? You have the nerve to throw blame left and right, when you are completely wrong. The article specifically states that the humans had the symptoms first, and THEN the cat started showing symptoms as well, infected by them, not vice versa. Or maybe the following sentence, at the end of the article, is too difficult for you to understand:

    “There is no evidence to date that any human has been infected with influenza by a pet.”

    Instead of talking about “reading between the lines,” how about you read the lines themselves first? Learning English might help.

    — DM
  7. 7. November 6, 2009 10:34 am Link

    DM #6 - I suggest you re-read the comment Dawn #5 actually posted rather than the one you imagine s/he’s posted.

    You’ll notice that rather than “throwing blame left and right”, the comment clearly states that “It would make more sense that the human transferred it to the cat” and that “Lets not give another reason for people to abuse their pets or blame animals.”

    Your own reactionary comment is the only one thus far that appears to be arbitrarily (and wrongly) casting blame “left and right”.

    You’re absolutely right about one thing, though. Learning English might help.

    — KM
  8. 8. November 6, 2009 12:14 pm Link

    This is unfortunate, not only for the pets, but for us humans because pets are such a comfort in sickness.

    — Paul
  9. 9. November 6, 2009 6:49 pm Link

    What Paul (#8) has said (”This is unfortunate, not only for the pets, but for us humans because pets are such a comfort in sickness”) gets to the heart of this. Yes, it is of medical and scientific importance how this flu behaves. But it is hard to imagine not touching or closely sharing space with a pet for a day, let alone for the duration of an illness. In addition, for all we know, being suddenly physically shunned might make our pets more susceptible to picking up our flus! Let’s hope we can all negotiate this kind of thing reasonably (and maybe with a few drops of cod liver oil for the cats, as an immune-booster).

    — Val
  10. 10. November 7, 2009 11:09 am Link

    Paul - You are absolutely right. Pets help people feel better emotionally AND physically. Studies have shown that the companionship of our pets during times of stress and illness can help by lowering BP and building immunity. And many times they WANT to be by our sides when we are down. But we have to protect them from this nasty flu since we know it can be transmitted from human to other animal species. Washing hands before petting and feeding our pets is great advice from this article.

    — TKT
  11. 11. November 7, 2009 11:11 am Link

    KM & DM - I think Dawn’s knowledge of the English language is sufficient enough to make the point that the slant from the media and misinformed public of pet to human contamination could contribute to an already epidemic problem of animal abuse and neglect.

    Sometimes we Americans in all our arrogance forget that English is NOT the primary language for most of the world and many who come to live in our country. Having a mastery of English is not required, only a strong enough feeling about something to put it out there as best we can, even if we stumble with words and grammar. The point of language is to communicate our ideas/feelings with others, and I understood perfectly what Dawn was trying to convey. Let up a little, already!

    — TKT
  12. 12. November 7, 2009 11:51 am Link

    I read and understood everything Dawn #5 said and agree with her. DM had no business complaining about misreading since post #6 was clearly the pot calling the kettle black.

    — TGL
  13. 13. November 7, 2009 4:43 pm Link

    I hope there is a vaccine for cats in development. I would like to know how the cat was treated.

    — kat
  14. 14. November 7, 2009 10:55 pm Link

    To Mike- Nov5 comment- you are not far off .it just so happens the family knows vet reserchers at iowa state university .they actually called them to test their cat for the sickness.
    that was in the chicago tribune .

    — mo
  15. 15. November 8, 2009 12:10 am Link

    There are several zoonotic conditions that cross species - viruses, parasites and infections. Brucelosis, Leptospirosis….
    If you have a cat, you should already be aware of Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasitic infection that humans can get through direct contact with cat feces while cleaning the litter box or gardening in soil contaminated with cat feces. Giardia is another. Humans can contract fungal infections of the skin such as ringworm, a skin and scalp disease presented by a ring-shaped rash or bald, scaly patch of skin. Petting the animal or even touching contaminated bedding or other articles can directly spread the infection to a person’s skin. Dogs and cats can transmit Campylobacter bacterial infections to people who come into contact with their feces, causing symptoms such as abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Contact with lizards, snakes, turtles, baby chicks and ducklings can result in Salmonella bacterial infections, causing fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain.. It is sad that most pet owners don’t realize this. However, simple sanitary measures will keep them to minimal risks. It is sad to say that the current “hysteria”, for lack of a better term, will cause pets to loose their homes.

    — M Viator
  16. 16. November 8, 2009 12:29 am Link

    Re how this diagnosis would have come about, all vets have at their fingertips access to testing for all sorts kinds of conditions. All veterinary colleges have labs for submission of samples by liscensed veterinary practitioners. They are most commonly used by larger animal hospitals or those in larger towns in my experience. All it takes is a veterinarian to be curious enough for a positive identification of the condition and approval by the pet owner. It usually is the result of lack of improvement in the pet’s condition by treatments or sudden onset of serious conditions in an otherwise normally healthy pet. Just an FYI from the inside from an experienced veterinary technician

    — M Viator

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Have questions about health and medicine? In Consults, we pose readers' inquiries about health and the latest research findings to leading experts. Please be aware that we can respond only to a very limited number of questions. We cannot provide personal medical advice. Questions for researchers in the news should be left as comments following posts introducing them. General health questions can be sent via the box at the top of this column or e-mailed to consults@nytimes.com.

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