Hi Dr. Barchas,
I heard that cats can catch bird flu. Is that true?
Yes, it’s true. A year ago, I could have said that influenza virus posed no threat to dogs and cats. Then, in November, 2005, influenza from horses spread to dogs. Despite a great scare, this dog flu did not become a major health threat to dogs.
And recently, cats in Germany and possibly Austria have contracted the much-hyped avian influenza virus (known as the H5N1 strain, or bird flu). The bad news is that the disease in cats is serious, and all cats known to have contracted it have died. The good news is that, at this point, it appears easy to prevent. Also, although cats can catch the virus from other cats, there is no evidence that cats can spread the disease to people.
The cats who have contracted avian influenza have done so by consuming wild birds infected with the disease, or by coming into direct contact with cats that are already infected. There has been a very small number of confirmed cases, which implies that only a small number of cats who are exposed to the virus will become sick.
Preventing the disease in cats appears to be easy. Cats must come into contact with wild birds or infected cats to become infected. If cats are kept inside and isolated from birds and outdoor cats, this cannot happen. Therefore, if you keep your cat inside, you have little to worry about.