Friday, October 06, 2006

How safe is my cat? Keeping Fluffy free from the flu

With all the talk about flu in birds, cat owners may be wondering: How safe is my cat? Along with hairballs and distemper, do I have to worry about my kitty getting an avian flu infection? Recent reports and studies suggest the answer is "yes," but there is no need to panic. As a pet lover, you can take steps to make sure Fluffy and Snowball stay healthy and safe.

Besides birds and people, a multitude of animals - such as pigs, ferrets, rats, rabbits - can become infected with the H5N1 avian flu virus, and that list includes felines. Internationally, both domestic kitties and big zoo cats have gotten the flu after eating H5N1-infected chickens, and sick cats can spread infection to other cats through their waste.

Raw meat from infected birds can be a risk for cats, and the World Health Organization reported this year that pet cats in Germany died from the H5N1 virus after eating infected birds. Other reports of infected cats have come from Austria, France and Bangkok. Sick cats are said to have the same symptoms as infected humans - fever, sore throat and muscle aches.

Luckily, there are no reported cases of infected cats in the United States and experts emphasize that the avian flu risk to felines in North America is very low. As a pet owner, you can take special care to protect your cat. Just follow these steps:
*Don't let your cat roam outdoors, because cats may be exposed to a virus after coming into contact with infected birds or eating fowl and other wildlife.
*Keep your cat away from birds and their droppings.
*Do not allow your cat to eat raw chicken, eggs or other poultry.

The same advice applies to dogs. While canines are not usually susceptible to avian flu, a 2005 unpublished study conducted in Thailand showed that dogs could be infected with the virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Given the limited information, the jury is still out on the risk for Fido. But dog owners can play it safe by following the same rules that are recommended for cats.

By using caution and watching out for your furry family members, you can ensure that both Fido and Fluffy remain happily curled up at the foot of your bed for years to come.

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