Can Your Pet Get Swine Flu, and Do They Really Need a Flu Shot?

catThe Iowa Department of Public Health reported the first confirmed case of H1N1 in a house pet, a 13-year-old domestic shorthaired cat.

The animal likely contracted the virus from its owners, veterinarians say, since two of the three family members living in the cat's household had recently suffered from influenza-like illness.

When the cat came down with flu-like symptoms -- malaise, loss of appetite -- its owners brought it to Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine for treatment. The family mentioned to the vet that they had also recently battled illness, which led to testing the pet for H1N1.

It's not yet clear how vulnerable cats, dogs and other household animals may be to the new virus, but the Iowa cat's case reinforces just how different H1N1 is from seasonal flu viruses.

"There has never been a report of human seasonal influenza affecting cats or dogs," says Dr. Julie Levy, director of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Florida.

"In theory, cats could infect humans, but there is no evidence for that yet," added Torres, former chief veterinary officer of the United States who is now associate dean for public policy at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Among animals, the virus does not appear to spread easily, which may further suggest that pets are not ideal reservoirs for influenza.

The cat seems to be recovering well from its bout with H1N1, by the way.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

First I want to point out that although swine flu was confirmed in a cat, this is a very rare occurrence, one that has never been documented before. To date, there has only been one confirmed case of H1N1 in a house pet, and this was in an older animal.

As in humans, as pets get older their immune systems may not be as adept at fighting off illness as those in younger animals, so it’s possible the cat’s older age played a part.

But again I want to stress how unlikely an event this truly is. There are no reports of human seasonal flu infecting cats or dogs on the record, and there is only once case of H1N1 infecting a cat.

And while veterinarians know that influenza viruses mutate, we do not expect H1N1 to mutate and infect thousands of pets.

How to Protect Your Pets From Flu and Other Illness

Although swine flu is a very minor risk to cats and dogs, the best way to protect them from this and other types of infectious disease is the same way you protect yourself.

Focus on creating a functional, resilient immune system through species-appropriate nutrition.

Most pets are denied access to living foods that are unprocessed and raw. They are also denied such healthy foods as whole meats, organs, veggies and fruits. This is a large part of the reason why many pets’ immune systems are vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

You can’t expect your pet to thrive on a diet of entirely processed foods, including grain-based, inorganic dry foods like most commercial kibble. It just won’t happen.

Dogs and cats evolved to consume living, unprocessed foods, and once you remove the raw food, you disrupt nearly every important biochemical pathway in their body. This is a prescription for disaster, and maintaining your pet on completely cooked and refined foods can clearly impact their health.

In fact, a growing number of veterinarians state that processed pet food (kibbled and canned food) is the number one cause of illness and premature death in modern dogs and cats.

In December 1995, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food suppresses animals’ immune systems, and causes:

  • Liver disease

  • Kidney disease

  • Heart disease

  • Other diseases

So the first step to helping your pet stay healthy is to feed them an optimized diet that includes fresh, living foods that are appropriate for their species. In the case of dogs and cats this means a raw, meat-based diet.

Should Your Pet Get a Flu Shot?

There is no pet H1N1 vaccine, and even if there was, it would be as ineffective as the other flu vaccines, so don't rely on vaccination to prevent or cure any flu outbreak.

Dogs have their own flu virus, H3N8, which is completely unrelated to the current H1N1 outbreak. There is a dog vaccine available but this is also not recommended.

You should know that canine influenza (dog flu) is NOT a human influenza virus and is a disease of dogs, not humans. There is no evidence that dog flu can be transmitted to humans.

While a small number of dogs can develop serious disease that progresses into pneumonia, the majority of dogs (80 percent or more) have only a mild form of the disease that causes cough, runny nose and fever.

Some dogs may also have dog flu and show no symptoms at all, and the number of dogs that die from dog flu is very small.

As with virtually all types of illness, the best route of prevention for dog flu begins with feeding your dog a high-quality species-appropriate diet and providing opportunities for regular exercise.

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