June 12, 2024 Cats One Health

Bird Flu in Cats: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Pets Safe

A cat with cows in a farm

Bird Flu in Cats: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Pets Safe

June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, and we’re highlighting our feline friends throughout the month with a series of cat-focused posts. Last week, I highlighted some household hazards specifically affecting cats. Today’s blogpost will focus on a much larger issue, the current nationwide outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1. The term highly pathogenic refers to how the virus behaves in birds. It may behave differently in other animals.

Bird Flu Risk to Cats

Why am I writing about bird flu in a cat blogpost? Unfortunately, this bird flu strain is particularly virulent in cats. A recent news article reported at least 16 cats in the United States have been diagnosed with HPAI this year. While that number seems small, the author of the article speculates many more cats have been infected but have not been tested for a viral infection.

This current bird flu outbreak started in 2021 and is concerning because the virus has spilled over from birds to cows. Cats living on dairy farms contract the infection by drinking unpasteurized milk from infected cows or eating infected birds. This strain of bird flu appears to have a high mortality rate in cats.

Bird Flu Risk to Other Mammals

Cats and cows are not the only mammals at risk for HPAI. Sea lions and elephant seals have succumbed to bird flu, which has spread throughout South America over the past four years. Mice, alpacas and humans are just some of the other “animals” known to be infected with HPAI. There are only three cases of bird flu in humans so far and all are dairy farm workers with close contact to cows. But there are concerns the bird flu virus is adapting to be more infectious in mammals.

Protecting Your Cat Against Bird Flu

The solution to the feline bird flu problem is simple: keep your cat indoors, away from birds and cows. If you give milk to your cat, make sure it is pasteurized.

To make your indoor space more appealing to a cat who loves the outdoors, try providing a safe outdoor environment for them via a catio. Food puzzles also help satisfy your cat’s desire to hunt for food.

Tags: adopt a shelter cat month, bird flu, cats, H5N1, highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPAI,

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