We usually hear about animals transmitting the flu to people. But researchers have found we can pass the flu on to our pets, including cats, dogs, and ferrets.
Shortly after my son returned home last February sniffling and sneezing, my cat began sneezing, too. My son recuperated in about a week. My cat, on the other hand, had to visit the vet and undergo antibiotic treatment before he stopped sneezing. Veterinary researchers caution, that as flu season approaches, we need to be aware that we can transmit the flu to our pets.
“We worry a lot about zoonoses, the transmission of diseases from animals to people,” said Christiane Loehr, an associate professor at the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “But most people don’t realize that humans can also pass diseases to animals.”
Flu viruses, such as the H1N1 and avian strains, raised awareness of the transmission of flu from pigs and birds to people, respectively. What’s less known is the ability of humans to pass flu viruses on to pets, such as cats, dogs, and ferrets. Veterinary researchers at Oregon State and Iowa State universities are studying this phenomenon. To date, researchers have identified only a handful of known cases, but some of the infected animals have died of respiratory illnesses.
The first known case of human-to-cat H1N1 transmission occurred in Oregon in 2009, with the cat succumbing to the disease. Since then, 13 cats and one dog have been recorded as contracting H1N1 from humans. Pet ferrets have also contracted the disease. Researchers are actively studying how we transmit diseases to our pets.
If pet owners are suffering from flu-like symptoms, researchers recommend we distance ourselves from our pets.
- Watch for symptoms in pets include respiratory infection, lack of appetite, and lethargy.
- Take pets to the veterinarian for testing and treatement if they come down with respiratory illnesses after exposure to a human with the flu.
- Undertake routine handwashing when preparing pets’ food and handling pets.