Can you give your cat the flu?


With flu season upon us, it’s time to think about boosting your immune system so you don’t get sick. And if you need even more incentive to stay healthy this winter, consider this: it turns out that humans can give the flu to cats.

The first case of a cat getting the flu from humans was identified in 2009, when the H1N1 (swine flu) strain was identified in a cat in Iowa. Since then, there have been a handful of other cases of the flu being passed from humans to cats, dogs or ferrets. Veterinary researchers at Oregon State University and Iowa State University are working to find more cases of this type of disease transmission and better understand any risks they pose to people and pets.

Even though this phenomenon appears to be rare, it’s something to be aware of if you get sick this winter.

If your cat were to get the flu, symptoms would be the same as they are in humans:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • lack of appetite

Since any one of these symptoms can also be an indicator for a more serious condition, you should always take your cat to your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Unfortunately, the only way to protect your cat from getting the flu from you or other humans in your household is by keeping the cat away from the sick person. Wash your hands frequently, and don’t cough or sneeze without covering your mouth and nose. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s no different than preventing the spread of the flu among humans.

There is currently no vaccine that protects cats against the flu.

Since most of us rely on our cats for comfort when we’re not feeling well – there’s just nothing more soothing than a purring cat in bed with us when we’re sick – the advice to keep away from them so we don’t infect them may be hard to follow. Given how rare these transmissions appear to be, I recommend that you use common sense precautions, the same way you would with human family members. And you can further protect your cat by keeping her immune system strong and healthy by feeding a species-appropriate, high quality diet and possibly adding in some good supplements.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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