Flocks of tweets have been flittering about the Twitterverse this week asking whether cats and dogs might be susceptible to Swine Flu. I haven’t found anyone willing to say “absolutely not,” but many, like veterinarian Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM, have said that it is improbable that your cat or dog can contract or spread the disease. Here’s her post on the topic from About.com:
By Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, About.com Guide to Veterinary Medicine since 1999
Can My Dog or Cat Get Swine Flu?
Monday April 27, 2009
Information about swine flu and how to protect yourself and your family is readily available. But what about our dogs and cats? Can they catch (or spread) swine flu to each other or members of their human family? Most likely, the answer is no. This isn’t an absolute answer, as viruses change, but historically there are no known dog/cat to human (or vice-versa) influenza transmissions. Here is more info about influenza viruses.
There are two types of influenza viruses: Type A and Type B. The Type A viruses are found in humans and many types of animals, usually strains specific to that species. The type B viruses circulate widely among humans1.
Dogs and cats do have their own versions of influenza viruses. The canine influenza virus is an influenza Type A H3N8 virus, and the feline version is Type A H5N1 influenza virus. (The numbers and letters after the type denote the numbers and types of proteins on the surface of the virus. The letter H stands for hemagglutinin and the letter N stands for neuraminidase.2)
Who is spreading what virus? It is interesting to note that birds play an important role in the spread of all influenza A viruses. From the CDC: “Wild birds are the primary natural reservoir for all subtypes of influenza A viruses and are thought to be the source of influenza A viruses in all other animals.” Read more
While rare, there have been human infections from pigs. In this current case of swine flu, a pig virus mixed with a human virus to produce the new strain that is being passed human-to-human. This allows for quick spread of this virus in the human population. Because this is a newly created (reassorted) virus, humans do not have any immunity from previous exposures as with “regular” viruses.
Back to dogs and cats While they both have influenza Type A viruses that can infect and cause illness in dogs and cats, humans are not as similar of a species to share these viruses in the current forms. There have been no reports yet of any cases that have spread to humans or from humans to pets.
Read more about influenza viruses in dogs and cats: H5N1 infection in domestic cats
Summary: “To date, there is no evidence that domestic cats have a role in the natural transmission cycle of H5N1 viruses” and “the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has issued preliminary recommendations for cat owners living in H5N1-affected areas. These include keeping domestic cats indoors to prevent exposure to potentially infected birds and avoiding contact with semi-domestic and feral cats living outside the home.” Report from the CDC
Key Facts about Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)
Summary: “To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza virus from dogs to people and there has not been a single reported case of human infection with the canine influenza virus. However, human infections with new influenza viruses (against which the human population has little immunity) would be concerning if they occurred. Influenza viruses are constantly changing and it is possible for a virus to change so that it could infect humans and spread easily between humans.” CDC Key Facts Sheet
If your pet is sick
As always, if you suspect that your dog or cat is sick, please contact your veterinarian directly for an examination and to discuss any questions.
Related Reading from the CDC:
- Transmission of Influenza Viruses from Animals to People
- Avian Influenza A Virus Infections of Humans
- Influenza Virus Type A Serosurvey in Cats
- Key Facts about Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)
1 The Influenza (Flu) Viruses – from the CDC
2 Transmission of Influenza Viruses from Animals to People