AVMA on H1N1 cat: Don’t Panic

In light of the discovery of the H1N1 influenza virus in an Iowa cat last week and three more Oregon ferrets this week, veterinarians and technicians should familiarize themselves with some key facts regarding this disease in pets.

So far, H1N1 has been detected in humans, ferrets, pigs, birds and a cat. There is no evidence that the virus has spread to other animals, but is theoretically possible for that to happen, said AVMA spokeswoman Kimberly May, DVM, MS, DACVS. However, May pointed out that people are still more likely to be infected by other people than by animals.

May said that other important facts to keep in mind include:

  • A cat with clinical signs of a respiratory infection is more likely to have a ‘typical’ respiratory infection than the 2009 H1N1 virus.
  • Management of pets suspected or confirmed to be infected with H1N1 is similar to that of other respiratory infections, including isolation/quarantine, proper hygiene, and supportive care.
  • The fact that people most likely infected the cat emphasizes the need for veterinary clinics to have a pandemic plan that is communicated to all staff and enforced.

Educating clients is just as important as educating the staff. May said that one key thing to remember to tell clients is: “Don’t panic.”

Other tips to tell pet owners, says May, are:

  • You are more likely to get H1N1 from a person than from a pet.
  • If your pet is ill, contact your veterinarian.
  • If you or a family member is ill, follow good common sense to protect all members of your family (including pets)—use good hygiene and sanitation, and limit your physical contact with them until you or they are feeling better. This is especially important with ferrets, which are known to be more susceptible to influenza A viruses.
  • Not all cats (or pets, for that matter) need to be tested for H1N1 if they get a runny nose. Don’t assume every sniffling pet has H1N1.

Judy Karnia, DVM, owner of the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Cat Clinic, said she has implemented preventive measures, but they are basically the usual precautions the clinic takes to prevent the spread of any contagious disease. These include urging clients to bring their cats to the clinic in a carrier and bringing the clients and patients into the exam rooms as soon as possible.

“If a cat is sneezing or having any discharge, we will try to do any needed procedures like blood drawing or subcutaneous fluids in the exam room,” Karnia said. “The exam room is always cleaned with disinfectant after any visit, all counters are cleaned with disinfectant frequently and the floors kept swept and mopped.”

More information on H1N1
Frequently Asked Questions by Veterinarians about 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus (AVMA)
AVMA updates on H1N1