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Updated June 11, 2009

As the swine influenza has become a worldwide pandemic, many questions have arisen. What scientists have discovered is that the strain of the flu virus (H1N1) -- which as of June 11, 2009 has been confirmed in 74 countries with 28,774 cases in humans, including 144 deaths -- is a combination of swine, avian, and human influenzas. What does this mean for our pets? Can they contract this deadly virus? Quite frankly, it may be possible but is quite unlikely.

Influenza viruses rarely jump from one species to another. And, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, "there is no evidence that pets are susceptible to this new strain of influenza; it appears to be transmitted solely from person to person."

However, domestic pets can suffer from influenza. Their viruses are just as species specific as ours tend to be, and are generally not contagious to any but members within that species group. Here are some of the more common strains of influenza currently affecting pets.

Flu in Dogs
The virus that causes dog flu, Influenza Type A, was first identified in Florida in 2004. It primarily infects the respiratory system and is extremely contagious to other dogs.

Flu in Cats
An avian strain of influenza (H5N1) has infected some domestic cats in the past, such as the the case in Germany in 2006. However, eating raw infected poultry was considered the most likely source of infection in all cases related to cats.

Flu in Horses
This strain of influenza is one of the most widespread horse afflictions in the world. Although it affects horses of all health types, weak and young horses (especially those that are housed in poorly ventilated, closed quarters with other horses) are at most risk.

Flu in Ferrets
This influenza virus is quite contagious and can be passed on from humans to ferrets, and vice versa. Unlike humans, however, the flu found in ferrets can sometimes prove to be fatal, especially old and young ferrets with weak immune systems.

Flu in Birds
It is the H5N1 flu strain that is most commonly associated with the phrase "Bird Flu." This virus strain caused the worldwide pandemic that began in Asia in 2003, and is a fragment of the current strain of the swine flu affecting humans.

Flu in Pigs
Pigs are hypothesized to serve as the "mixing vessels" in which reassortment between avian and human influenza viruses take place, according to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. There are several combinations of the viruses in pigs, including H1N2, H3N2 and the subtype currently causing havoc worldwide: H1N1.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "there is no evidence at this time that the [H1N1 flu strain] is in U.S. swine." Swine owners (e.g., those who own potbellied pigs), however, should learn the warning signs of swine influenza, including sudden onset of fever, depression, coughing (barking), discharge from the nose or eyes, and going off feed. If your pig is showing any of these signs, call your veterinarian immediately.

If you should have any further questions on what type of influenza strains affects humans, contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Imaeg: Bogart Handsome Devil / via Flickr

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