I received an important e-mail alert yesterday from the American Veterinary Medical Association with the same title as this post. Scary, right? 

Here’s the content of the message:

November 4, 2009 – A 13-year old cat in Iowa developed signs of a respiratory infection after several people in the household were ill.  Preliminary testing was positive for 2009 H1N1 on October 29, and the results were confirmed on November 2.  This is the first report of a cat infected with H1N1.  The cat has recovered from its illness.

To date, this is the first cat confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus.  Two ferrets, one in Oregon and one in Nebraska, have also recently been confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus.  The Nebraska ferret died, but the Oregon ferret has recovered.  To date, there is no evidence that the ferrets or the cat passed the virus to people.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners are reminding pet owners that many viruses can pass between people and animals, so this was not an altogether unexpected event. We are advising pet owners to monitor their pets’ health very closely, no matter what type of animal, and visit a veterinarian if there are any signs of illness.

For more information, view the AVMA’s press release on the Iowa case or visit the AVMA’s H1N1 resources Web page

The upshot is that we need to be concerned for our pets, but there’s no need to panic. Knowing that cats and ferrets are susceptible to the swine flu virus adds a heretofore unknown twist to the rapidly developing H1N1 story, but all it means is that you need to take precautions should you develop flu-like symptoms –– even with your pets.

It’s no surprise that the recommendations for reduced human to animal transmission are similar to those for preventing human to human transmission: Cough into your elbow, wash your hands before handling your pets and give them a wide berth until 24 hours post-fever.

My modest recommendation as an animal-physician? Follow the CDC’s lead and get yourself and your family vaccinated. I have my vax appointment on Monday. When’s yours? 

Again, take into account that so far it appears as though only humans can transmit H1N1 to cats and ferrets. They haven’t yet given it to us, nor have we given the virus to dogs. Only time will tell whether this will remain the case. Here’s hoping that’s as far as H1N1 goes.

Dr. Patty Khuly