Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Medical: Can your pet get the flu?

This flu season seems to have hit hard, at least in the U.S.  For those of us who are pet lovers, when illness strikes, there's nothing more comforting than to cuddle up with a furry family member. But is this the best thing for them?

When we're ill, cuddling with a pet is a welcome comfort
Photo: Creative Commons 2.0

It's long been understood that animals can transmit disease to humans - a process known as zoonosis.

Probably the most well known example of this is rabies, where the infection is passed through the bite of a wild animal such as a raccoon or a bat. Another example would be Lyme disease, transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick.

Yet for decades, veterinarians have fielded calls from pet parents worried that they'd given Fluffy the flu. And for decades, each query was met with a reassurance that it was impossible for a human to transmit diseases of this type to an animal.

Fast forward to 2009. A new strain of flu hits humankind - the swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus. Some pet owners who succumb to the swine flu begin to notice their beloved cats and dogs exhibiting similar symptoms.

Rx for your pet? It may be necessary!
In Iowa, two family members who had contracted H1N1 bring their cat to the College of Veterinary Medicine with complaints of unusual respiratory distress. A nasal swab confirms what the family fears: they had given their cat the flu.

This was the first documented case of a domestic animal catching the flu from its humans. The process is known as reverse zoonosis.

According to the Oregon State College of Veterinary Medicine "reverse zoonosis is still poorly understood but has raised concern among some scientists and veterinarians, who want to raise awareness and prevent further flu transmission to pets".

If you find yourself home sick with the flu, researchers recommend that you distance yourself as much as possible from your pets, and put into place the same disease prevention practices you would use with other humans: wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

And if you suspect your furry family member is beginning to exhibit similar symptoms, they urge you to seek veterinary care immediately for two reasons: first, they want to ensure your pet has the medical care needed in case they have caught the flu from you. And second, they want to document as many cases as possible, to help them better understand this type of disease transmission so they can address the risks posed to both pet and human.

Since that first documented case in Iowa, over 13 dogs, cats and ferrets have been diagnosed with pandemic H1N1 infection in 2011 and 2012, according to Oregon State and Iowa State University,  two institutions who are studying the phenomenon.

Prescription: plenty of rest, fluids and a visit to the vet!
And so far, serological evidence (the study of blood and bodily fluids) indicates that dogs and cats are exposed to the flu far more often than was previously assumed.

In each case where an animal caught the flu, they exhibited classic flu-like symptoms that you'd expect to see: rapid upper respiratory distress, lack of appetite.

In cats especially, this inclination to not eat can quickly become critical and even life-threatening.

One reported case in Oregon published in the periodical Veterinary Pathology stated that the owner became severely ill with the flu and her cat caught it from her. The flu then progressed to pneumonia - and the cat died.

Respiratory illness in pets can be serious, so we want to reiterate the importance of seeking veterinary attention if you suspect your pet may be ill.

Can you really give your dog or cat the flu? - Oregon State University
Flu Season for your pets - Science Daily
My Health News Daily

Disclaimer: this article is intended to pass along helpful information pet health care issues, but it should not be used to diagnose your pet. We are not veterinary experts and this is not intended as a substitute in any way for professional veterinary medical care.

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  1. We also suspected that there must be a chance of passing on bugs between human and pet. Great post. Now we will make sure we take care especially with our old girl. Have a marvelous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Wow, we didn't know this about H1N1. Thanks so much for posting! Fortunately our humans did get a flu shot that included H1N1 and will do so every year.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I am still learning a lot about H1N1 as it's relatively new. I don't think I have ever seen a case of it to date.

  4. There were quite a few H1N1 cases locally, including deaths. Thank you for this article!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Will definitely take extra caution around my kitty.


  7. Excellent posting and we will heed your advice!

  8. Not quite the flu but... TBT sometimes gets the hee-cups. Lately, I have had them too. Did I catch it from him? ~ IZA

  9. We all have had the flu bug in our house, we always wash our hands and cover our mouths when spluttering.. That was a darn good post :) xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  10. This was gonna be the topic of my Blog the Change in October. You beat me to it.

    1. Shhh! We won't tell! And that's an excellent time to remind people too - right at the beginning of the season. People will need to hear this again at that time!!

  11. Informative article, totally what I needed.

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