Swine flu has spread to a cat. Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ames, Iowa has identified the first case of H1N1 virus in a 13-year-old domestic cat. After additional testing, the US Department of Agriculture confirmed the university’s findings.
Once the indoor tabby cat became lethargic, refused to eat, and showed signs of troubled breathing, the concerned pet guardians brought the animal in for observation. The examining veterinarians, Dr. Brett Sponseller, a specialist in large animal internal medicine and molecular virology, and Dr. Albert Jergens, an expert with small animals and immunology, initially suspected a gastrointestinal problem or a respiratory condition.
After examining the cat, the vets discovered that the results of those tests weren’t consistent with any gastrointestinal or respiratory problems. Since the pet guardians were recovering from the flu at the time of the incident, the veterinarians speculated a case of humans transferring influenza to a cat. The vets began tests for H1N1 virus and were able to quickly confirm that the cat did indeed have swine flu.
It is not clear how the cat contracted the virus, but additional tests are being conducted to confirm that the family members of the cat had H1N1 and to verify that the flu was transmitted from human to cat. At this time there is no evidence that a cat can transmit the flu to a human. The swine flu outbreaks in domestic pets have been transferred from humans to pets, not the other way around.
Pet guardians should take precautions against spreading swine flu to their pets just as they would with humans. To ensure your pet stays healthy always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, clean your hands before feeding or handling your pet, and keep yourself at a distance from your pet until your symptoms subside. Be sure to bring your pet to a veterinarian should they become ill with flu-like symptoms or exhibit strange behavior.
For more information about swine flu and your pets, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association at AVMA.org. —Megan Bender