Can pets get H1N1?

With the arrival of cold and flu season, H1N1 certainly seems to be on everyone’s mind. Do we also need to be concerned for our pets?

Although extremely rare, some pets can catch swine flu through exposure to people who have the virus. In addition to a number of ferrets, who are known to be particularly susceptible to influenza, a cat in the US recently contracted — and recovered from — the H1N1 virus, which it had picked up from family members. To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans have not caught the flu from their pets, only the other way around.

Symptoms to watch out for

So how do you know if your pet has the flu? Common signs of illness include not eating, drinking or playing as usual, according to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. In addition to lethargy and loss of appetite, your pet may also cough, sneeze or develop a fever and runny nose and/or eyes. Watch for any changes or difficulty in breathing.

Note: Dogs have their own flu, the H3N8 influenza (or canine influenza), which so far has only been spread from dog to dog. Symptoms, which are similar to kennel cough, include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing and a runny nose. (For more information on canine influenza, click here.)

Ways to protect your pet

The transmission of the H1N1 virus from humans to animals is similar to human-to-human transmission, experts say. To avoid spreading the virus, take the same precautions with your pet that you would with other family members, including:

— Cough and sneeze into a tissue, or if need be your arm, but not your hand. Discard tissues immediately so your pet will not come into contact with them.

— Wash your hands frequently using soap and water for 15 seconds, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

— Limit contact with your pet if you are sick.

— Avoid touching your pet’s face, as germs can be transmitted through the mouth, eyes and nose.

So if people in your household are diagnosed with swine flu, should you consider boarding your pet? In most cases, experts say, this is unnecessary since your pet has probably already been exposed to the virus by the time a family member starts showing symptoms, and uprooting your pet will cause him or her additional stress.

And keep in mind that despite a few recent cases of pet infection, it is highly unlikely that your pet will come down with swine flu. However, if your ‘best friend’ has been exposed to the virus and is showing any signs of illness, be sure to contact your veterinarian.

Additional Source: American Veterinary Medical Association

Photo © Michael Pettigrew


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