Your cat and avian influenza (bird flu)
Leading UK feline welfare charity, Cats Protection, is urging pet owners not to panic about their pet’s health, or their own health, following the death of a domestic cat from bird flu in Germany.
Beth Skillings, Head of Veterinary Services for the charity, agrees with both leading health protection professionals and the President of the British Veterinary Association, that the risks to cats, and humans, from the H5N1 virus is small.
“We urge pet owners to be sensible and keep things in perspective. There is no need for owners to rehome their cats, or have them euthanized, because of fears of infection with bird flu. Furthermore, there is no need to keep cats indoors,” she said.
“The risk of cats catching bird flu is small – it mainly happens through felines eating infected poultry – but let’s remind ourselves that the H5N1 has not been found in this country. And even in areas of the world where bird flu is present, there has not been large numbers of deaths in mammals from the disease,” she continued.
There have been no recorded cases of cat to human infection from the virus. Cats do not have their own influenza virus (unlike humans or poultry) so the concern of cats acting as a host in which the virus changes to become transmissible between people is extremely unlikely. Furthermore, there is limited evidence of cat to cat transmission of the virus in a non-laboratory environment.
The charity suggests that concerned owners could try and keep their cats away from wild waterfowl and poultry and, in line with DEFRA guidelines, safely dispose of any wild birds and poultry carcasses that their cat presents in a sealed bag in household rubbish outside using rubber gloves. We recommend that raw meat or poultry should not be fed to cats, not only because of avian flu, but because of the risk of salmonella and other infections.
Owners of cats that hunt could also try and keep their pets in at dawn and dusk to lessen predatory activity. Normal hygiene practices should also be observed when handling cat or bird faeces.
No vaccine is licensed to prevent bird flu in cats.