Although we hear a lot about how our cats can make us sick, it turns out that we can make our cats sick, too.
On Feb. 14, a 6-year-old male cat was rushed to a Wisconsin emergency veterinary hospital due to respiratory distress. A second cat in the same household, a 10-year-old female, also developed severe respiratory disease. Despite aggressive treatment and supportive care, both cats were euthanized because they failed to respond to treatment.
The cats were given a series of tests to determine the cause of their illness, and the the male tested positive for the H1N1 influenza virus.
This is the first confirmed case of H1N1 in a U.S. pet since January 2010, according to Idexx Reference Laboratories, creator of the diagnostic test that determined the cause of the cats’ disease, which sent out an alert to veterinarians on Monday.
The female cat tested negative for the virus. However, given the strong-positive quantitative [test] result in the first cat, the H1N1 influenza virus is still the presumptive cause of respiratory disease in the second cat, Idexx reported. The shedding period of influenza viruses is short, which may have been responsible for the negative [test] result.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which tracks all instances of H1N1 in animals, also sent out a media alert.
Before the cats became ill, their owner had been sick with flu-like symptoms and is believed to be the source of the infection, according to AVMA.
In addition to humans and cats, this strain of H1N1 influenza virus has also been found in pigs, birds, ferrets and a dog.
The AVMA noted that there have been no confirmed cases of pets passing the virus back to people.
The clinical signs of H1N1 virus infection are likely to resemble those of other common respiratory infections, according to Idexx. However, H1N1 can progress into severe respiratory disease, including pneumonia. Clinical signs may includecoughing, sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose;fever, lethargy and loss of appetite; and difficult or slow breathing and other forms of respiratory distress.
Anyonesuffering flu-like symptoms should practice good hygiene and wash their hands frequently, especially after sneezing or using a tissue. Owners are also advised to avoid cuddling with their cat or ferret if they have flu symptoms.
Both cats presented with difficulty breathing. The AVMA urges pet owners to watch their cats’ health very closely. If a cat is not breathing normally — no matter what the cause — it is an emergency and veterinary care should be sought immediately.