H1N1: What you need to know about your pets and the swine flu

Oregon saw the first cat in the nation to die of H1N1 (aka “swine flu”). Oregon also had the first confirmed case of a ferret with H1N1, and to have a ferret die of the illness. In addition to the pigs for which this strain of flu is named, flocks of domestic turkeys have contracted the illness too. So far no affected dogs have been reported, and it is not yet known if they are susceptible.

Buddy Lou, a 10-year-old Tabby from Lebanon, OR, came down with a respiratory illness shortly after a child in his house was sick with flu-like symptoms, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The cat died four days after being taken to the Lebanon Animal Clinic. Fluid had accumulated in the cat’s lungs, and he did not respond to routine antibiotics or oxygen treatment. Tests confirmed that he had H1N1.

It may be surprising that it’s not unusual for diseases to be passed from animals to humans. Such illnesses, called zoonotic diseases, can be as simple and harmless as ringworm or as devastating as anthrax, plague or rabies. It’s less common for a human to pass a disease to an animal than an animal to human. 

Buddy Lou is the third cat diagnosed with the virus, according to the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA). The other two others, from Iowa and Utah, have recovered. The three other cats in Buddy Lou’s household were also sneezing and coughing, but they recovered and tested negative for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, according to the AVMA.

Veterinarians say pet owners shouldn’t panic. Precautions for pets are similar to precautions for human-to-human transmission. It is possible, although no documented cases have occurred, for pet owners to get the flu from their cats or ferrets. As we’ve heard all season long, Dr. Emilio DeBess, Oregon State Public Health Veterinarian, reiterates the importance of washing your hands frequently, covering a cough and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if you’ve had contact with an animal with a respiratory illness.

The state has created a flyer giving pet owners information about H1N1 available at most veterinarians’. Pet guardians should consider the possibility of their cats, birds, ferrets, and even dogs having H1N1 if a member of the household has recently had the illness, and take to the vet for testing and treatment. More information on pets and swine flu is available here.