What cat owners should know about bird flu

Veterinary health officials are urging cat owners to be aware of bird flu risks - Photo UnSplash +

An expert shares the risks and warning signs for pet owners

As bird flu (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza) continues to spread across the country, consumers with cats at home may want to be paying extra close attention. 

The American Humane Association has reported that cats have died as a result of contracting bird flu, and the organization is working to raise awareness to ensure that pet owners keep their animals safe and healthy amid the outbreak

In an effort to educate more consumers, Dr. Tom Edling, chief veterinary officer at the American Humane Association, has shared the ins and outs of bird flu as it relates to cats and other pets with ConsumerAffairs. 

Keep pets indoors

Edling explained that household pets, like cats and dogs, can contract bird flu, though the incidence is much lower in dogs. To keep pets safe he recommends that pet owners keep their animals indoors as much as possible. 

“It’s important to remember that cats will only be exposed to bird flu if they go outside and come in contact with an ill or dead bird. Keep your cats indoors and they will be healthy and safe,” Edling explained. 

“The best way to keep your pets safe is to keep them inside your home until we know more about the bird flu,” he continued. “When you take pets outside, keep them away from wild birds and any animals that appear to be sick, injured, or dead.”

Signs of infection

Edling also discussed what signs and symptoms cat owners should be looking for when thinking about bird flu. 

“Cats usually show symptoms within a few days of exposure to the virus, though some may only show mild signs of infection,” he said. “Common symptoms include listlessness, loss of appetite, depression, fever, and difficulty breathing. If you notice any warning signs, contact your vet immediately.

“Every cat is different. Usually, infection is only mild. However, some cats have still died from avian influenza. We’re still learning more about how the virus impacts different species, but we do know that chronic illness and stress can make infected cats more sick. Pet owners should remember that every case is unique and stay vigilant,” Edling said. 

Edling recommends that pet owners consider separating animals in the home if one of them starts presenting with symptoms. Additionally, the risk of spreading bird flu from cats to humans is very unlikely, but pet owners should take the precautions necessary to keep their animals safe. 

Knowing the risks

While the bird flu is certainly a cause for concern for pet owners, Edling wants consumers to know that more information is needed before panic sets in. 

“It’s important to put the risk of bird flu into context,” he said. “We know that thousands of cats have likely been exposed to the virus worldwide due to frequent interactions with wild birds, but there have only been a few reported cases of cats becoming ill or dying from avian influenza. Your cat has a greater risk of illness, injury, or death due to cars and other animals than bird flu.”

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