Can I Give My Pet the Flu?

December 9, 2013 in Aerowood Animal Hospital

Veterinarians have all been taught that it is not possible for pets to catch the flu from humans, but it turns out this may not be the case anymore. While not common, recent studies show that it is possible for a pet to contact the influenza A virus, better known as the flu, from humans. The concept of a disease being transferred from a human to an animal is called reverse zoonosis and flu cases have emerged involving dogs, cats, and ferrets. The first probable occurrence was in Oregon in 2009. While a cat owner was hospitalized with the flu, her pet died of pneumonia brought on by an H1N1 flu infection. The feline was an indoor cat and had no additional exposure to humans, animals, or other possible contributing factors around this time. Since this time an additional 13 cats, a dog, and some ferrets have been infected with H1N1 under similar conditions. Some of these cases have been fatal and the symptoms are comparable to human flu symptoms like respiratory disease, loss of appetite, and sometimes death.

These cases of reverse zoonosis sparked the interest of a group of veterinary researchers. At the 15th International Congress on Infectious Diseases, these researchers presented a study in which over 2000 dogs and cats were tested for Influenza A antibodies. The team discovered the antibodies in samples of nine percent of the canines and over five percent of the felines. This research team from Iowa State University and Oregon State University are combining efforts to continue to study the transmission of the flu from an owner to their pet to better predict and prevent this occurrence.

Trujillo J, Sponseller B, Lohr C, et al. Reverse zoonosis of influenza A virus in companion animals; What it means to veterinary and human medicine. International Journal of Infectious Diseases 2012. 2012 June; 16 (S1): 46.059 e474-e499.

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