Flu Can Be Passed to Our Pets, New Study Finds

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With the change in the weather, illnesses seem to circulating through offices, schools, and families. And while we haven't heard of many flu cases yet, the flu virus tends to start appearing in October or November and peaks in January or February.

I don't know about you, but in my house, the person who is sick gets dog-piled by cats and dogs as the most viable option for warmth and comfort. It's a mutually beneficial situation. But now, a study has shown that the flu virus can be transmitted to our pets, so you might want to take care of the furry caretakers before they try to take care of you.

Photo by Chris Corwin.

A study was done in testing blood samples from cats and dogs, and it was determined that a surprising number of pets showed evidence of infection in those blood samples, though it is unknown the physical symptoms the pets had, since they simply tested the samples.

UK studies of the flu in ferrets

There are a few known cases of pets coming down with influenza from human sources, and some cats even died. Also of note, ferrets have been used in the UK to study the rates of transmission of the flu (because ferrets are known to be able to be carriers of human influenza.) These ferret studies have shown that the flu can be transmitted even before symptoms show. This shows that we need to be very careful and get the flu shot not only to protect ourselves and fellow humans, but also to protect our pets.

Symptoms of influenza (According to the CDC)

The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
* It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

If you find yourself coming down with these symptoms, make sure you keep your pets at a safe distance with an activity that will keep them occupied so they aren't feeling the need to commiserate with you. If you note your pet having breathing difficulties and congestion after an exposure to the flu, be sure to take your pet to the vet for supportive care. Cats, in particular, are especially vulnerable to the flu, like ferrets.

Let your vet know of your suspicions as this information will be important to begin tracking inter-species influenza transmission. This will also be helpful in getting appropriate treatment for your pet.

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Amber on October 8 at 12:09 PM said:

a good UV air sanitizer can be a helpful tool in keeping infections from spreading. i really hate to hear this. for those who foster animals that have come from shelters and who knows what else, keeping upper respiratory infections, kennel cough, etc., at bay is hard enough. now, the flu too? yikes.
Mary on October 8 at 9:13 PM said:

That's a great tip, Amber. It's not a well-studied issue yet, so we don't know how often these inter-species infections occur. I got the impression that it was still fairly rare, but I'd rather have our readers be safe than sorry.
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