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Should You Worry About Bird Flu and Your Pet Cat?

Avian influenza H5N1 is still making headline news. A recent press conference given by United States Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt, indicated that the United States is monitoring the migratory bird populations very closely for the arrival of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the United States. There are many strains of avian influenza, but the current concern is over highly pathogenic avian influenza, or the H5N1 strain.

Early detection is the key to preventing the spread to commercial poultry operations in this country. Humans can only contract the disease from very close contact with infected birds or by consuming the uncooked meat of infected birds. Properly handling and preparing the meat of infected birds will prevent the transmission of the virus to human.
Cats are able to contract avian influenza by consuming infected birds. It is not yet very well understood whether or not dogs can become infected with the virus. Cats that are allowed outdoors will be more likely to catch a sick bird because of its limited ability to escape. If the bird is infected with H5N1, the cat can also become infected. The transmission of the virus from cat to cat is not well understood and it is thought that the virus can’t be passed from cat to human.

Avian influenza in its highly pathogenic form has the potential to mutate into a form that can be transmitted from human to human. BUT, avian influenza H5N1 in its current form is unable to be transmitted from one human to another, except in very rare circumstances.

In countries where H5N1 has been identified in the bird populations, it is being recommended that all pet cats be kept indoors at all times. This is not a bad recommendation in the United States either, where indoor cats have an expected life span of about 18 years and outdoor cats have an expected life span of about 18 months, not because of avian influenza, but because of other threats to their health and safety.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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