Cats and Flu

To say having the flu is a miserable experience is putting it mildly. I should know. I just spent the week after Christmas incapacitated on my couch, too tired and achy to remain in an upright position for more than ten minutes at a time. Throughout the ordeal, my three cats remained by my side. Or, more accurately, they remained curled up by my head, draped across my legs or snuggled into the crook of my arm.

Maybe they were trying to make me feel better. Perhaps they felt a need to watch over me. Or it could be that the fever I was running made my body too cuddly to resist—we all know how cats love warm things like sunbeams, fireplaces and heated blankets. Regardless of the reason, I was happy to have them with me, though I did worry a bit that they might catch my flu.

You see, I recently read an article about a study on cats and flu. Researchers collected blood samples from a number of cats in Ohio and found that 30 percent had been infected with seasonal flu and 20 percent had been infected with the particularly virulent H1N1 flu strain.

The results were not that surprising to the veterinary scientists, as they’ve known since the early 70s that cats can catch the flu. However, until now, the incidence of infection was thought to be minimal. According to the scientists, the new research suggests that cat flu infections have increased dramatically since 2009.

While the method of transmission in most of the research subjects is unclear—they may have caught the flu from their owners, other cats or other animals in the household—human to animal flu infection is quite possible. So far the study has confirmed 13 cases in which a pet cat or dog was infected with the H1N1 flu strain from a person.

Cats and dogs suffering from the flu exhibit similar symptoms to those of humans, including coughing, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, fever and fatigue. While I’m now on the mend, I continue to keep an eye on my girls. If they present any of these cat flu symptoms, I will schedule an appointment with the vet immediately.

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