Two cats from different households in Colorado have tested positive for H1N1, according to Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The felines are expected to recover, but their cases serve as a reminder to pet owners to seek veterinary attention for companion animals that appear to be ill.
The cats in these two cases were diagnosed with lower respiratory tract infections by Colorado veterinarians. Both cats are currently ill and have been ill for multiple weeks, with one illness beginning on Oct. 2 and the other beginning in early November. Antibiotics do not treat H1N1, but both cats received antibiotics as a precaution against secondary bacterial infections. Neither cat had symptoms that responded to antibiotics.
“We expect that both cats will recover, but these cases serve as a reminder to pet owners to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible if their pet seems ill. This flu has also been identified in ferrets, exotic cats and birds in the United States, so any companion animal that appears to have the flu should get immediate attention,” said Kristy Pabilonia, a veterinarian and expert on H1N1 testing in animals at CSU. “We are very interested in understanding more about H1N1 in cats and other pets and providing tests to veterinarians who suspect H1N1 in companion animals.”
Swabs from the cats’ mouth and nose were tested by CSU and additional blood serum confirmation testing from Iowa State University confirmed that they have the pandemic H1N1 strain.
Veterinarians believe that both of the cats became ill with H1N1 after a person in their household contracted the virus.
In addition to receiving veterinary care, cats and ferrets with H1N1 should be made comfortable and get plenty of rest, enticing food and fluids.
The USDA is reporting three other confirmed cases of H1N1 in cats, one each in Oregon, Iowa and Pennsylvania. At least five ferrets have been confirmed to have H1N1, four in Oregon and one in Nebraska.
Pabilonia said that because this strain of H1N1 is new, information about how it impacts animals is limited. It is possible that any animal may be susceptible to H1N1, but no other cases have been documented in companion animals. To date, there are no reported cases of H1N1 in dogs in the United States. Pet birds have been susceptible to other strains of the flu, but no cases of H1N1 in these animals have been reported.
People with H1N1 or any flu should be careful when in contact with their pets. Pabilonia recommends that they practice social distancing with pets just as they would with people. People who are ill should wash their hands before handling pets and, if possible, have someone who is well feed and care for pets. Just like people, pets are exposed to H1N1 through aerosols — fluids released when someone sneezes, coughs or touches their face and then a surface.
Because there have only been a few cases of H1N1 flu in pets, veterinarians have limited information about the symptoms. Pets with H1N1 may behave as if they aren’t feeling well, acting lethargic and may appear to have a respiratory illness. If a pet seems ill, it should be taken to a veterinarian for an exam as soon as possible and the veterinarian should be alerted that the pet has been exposed to someone with influenza.
CSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is testing pets for H1N1 as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network. The test detects H1N1 influenza virus in animals. Tests are performed on nasal or mouth swabs. Swabs should be obtained by a veterinarian and submitted to the lab for results.