As flu season marches inexorably on, more cases of H1N1 continue to make the news. By now, most of us may even know someone personally affected by this flu. Which is probably why people keep asking me whether their pets are at risk.

Here’s what the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has to say about this:

To date, there is no evidence that pets are susceptible to this new strain of influenza; it appears to be transmitted only from person to person or from human to swine. There still is not enough information yet for us to know for sure if the virus can be transmitted to other animals. The best advice is to always follow common sense guidelines when dealing with animals (eg, washing your hands). In addition, it's more important than ever that pet owners keep a good eye on their pet's health and consult a veterinarian if their pet is showing any signs of illness. Keeping your pets healthy reduces their risk of becoming ill.

But what about birds?

Yes, it apparently can infect birds. In August 2009, authorities in Chile reported 2009 H1N1 influenza in two turkey farms near Valparaiso. It is not yet known if infected birds can pass the 2009 H1N1 virus to humans.

Or your pot-bellied pig?

To date, the 2009 H1N1 virus has not been reported in pot-bellied pigs. However, the possibility of human-to-pig transmission of the virus warrants extra caution by pig owners. After all, pot-bellied pigs are considered swine, and therefore may be susceptible to the virus. For the time being, a cautious approach would include all contact between your pig and anyone who is ill or has recently been exposed to an ill person. Remember that pot-bellied pigs can become ill from a number of causes, and keeping your pig healthy and free of disease helps protect your pig as well as you. If you have a pet pig and it appears ill, consult a veterinarian immediately.

So, thus far there’s no evidence that H1N1 is an actual problem for our pets –– not even avian or porcine versions. And if you do happen to keep pigs and birds, you should know that the fewer animals there are crammed together in one space, the lower the risk. Keeping just one or two of these pets offers almost no risk at all.

For all the bluster about the swine flu, just know that hanging out with your pets is always safer than navigating any crowded space –– a mall, a plane, a subway, etc. No matter what some fearmongers like to say, pets are more likely to keep you healthy than not. And the swine flu? Don’t sweat it on the animal front … not yet, anyway. 

Dr. Patty Khuly