Flu Season is Here, But This Time for Cats

Cat avian fluUpdate: Late on the afternoon of 12/22/16, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced one person, of more than 350 people screened, has been found with H7N2; this person is a veterinarian who had prolonged close exposure to respiratory secretions of sick cats at Animal Care Centers of NYC’s (ACC) Manhattan shelter and has recovered from mild illness. Read the full press release.

Influenza hit the news last week when cats at a New York City shelter were diagnosed with avian influenza. As of this writing, the significance of this species jump of the avian influenza virus is yet unclear, but if you know anything about flu, a jump of an influenza virus between species is no surprise.

Horses to Dogs
In 2003, a respiratory illness affected greyhounds at Florida racetracks, resulting in illness severe enough to cause death in some dogs. Study of that virus showed it originated in horses, and as early as 1999 acquired the ability to infect dogs. Over time, the virus has been found nationwide and is considered one of the pathogens responsible for “kennel cough” complex.

Dogs Again
Over 1,000 dogs in the Chicago area were affected by a respiratory illness in 2006. First suspected to be caused by the same virus as the 2003 outbreak, the cause was ultimately determined to be a new canine flu virus. This second strain of flu virus infecting dogs originated in Southern China and Korea. Occasionally cats can catch this strain of flu virus. Just this year a single vaccine has become available to protect dogs against both strains of the canine flu virus.

Humans to dogs, cats and ferrets
During the 2009 human flu season, a limited number of dogs, cats and ferrets with diagnosed with a human influenza virus infection. They were tested for human influenza because one of their family members was sick immediately prior to the pet’s illness. This is just another example of how flexible flu viruses are.

Now Birds to Cats
Last week, the New York Post reported a feline influenza outbreak in a New York City shelter. Officials have identified this virus as a Type A influenza virus typically found in birds. It is a low pathogenic avian influenza virus and not the same type of flu that ravaged commercial poultry farms in the United States in 2015. As of right now, no dogs in the shelter have turned up positive for the virus and experts think dogs may not be susceptible to this particular strain. This strain of flu virus is not thought to infect humans and no shelter workers have become infected. But stay tuned as flu viruses can infect unexpected hosts.

Do Your Flu-Diligence

  • Agree to influenza testing if your pet has a respiratory illness typical of the flu.
  • Check with your veterinarian about your dog’s risk factors for contracting canine flu and consider vaccination if the risk is determined to be high.
  • If you get the flu, quarantine yourself from all family members including the dog, cat and ferret to prevent an interspecies infection. Wash your hands before petting your dog and cover your sneezes to protect your cat.
  • Consider getting a flu shot for yourself, just to protect your pets.

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