Bird Flu (Avian influenza) Transmission to Cats: What Owners Need to Know

In recent days, there has been an increase in cases of H5N1 virus infection in cats. During the observation period, cats experienced various incidents of illness due to factors such as stress, high crowdedness, and exposure to multiple infectious agents. Viral release was only detected in a few samples early in the infection, and spread between cats was unlikely. The limited transmission may be due to minimalistic viral shedding and the cats' immune system. Overall, cats may not play a significant role in the spread of H5N1 influenza unless they consume infected birds. However, the risk could change with genetic mutation and recombination of the virus, so it is important to make efforts to minimize contact between cats and infected birds.

In recent days, news of cats affected by bird flu in Poland has been reported in the media. Previously, there were reports of a few cats testing positive for the H5N1 virus in countries such as Thailand, China, and India. However, the recent epidemic in Poland has shown a significantly higher number of affected cats. Globally, the situation of avian flu has become worrisome, with the virus being common in birds and the number of cases increasing among mammals, including humans.

Cats and Burd Flu


How does avian influenza transmit to cats?

How cats contract avian flu is a worrying issue for cat owners. Cats have the potential to contract H5N1 virus infection through breathing and oral routes, such as consuming infected birds. However, certain conditions must be met for the infection to occur. The cat needs to live in an area where H5N1 virus infection in birds has been confirmed. The cat should have had outdoor access to an environment where waterfowl are present, or have had contact with poultry or uncooked poultry meat. Another possibility is close contact with a sick cat infected with H5N1 during the initial week of infection.

The symptoms of avian flu in cats

The incubation period varies from 2 to 3 days in larger felids. In cats, common symptoms include fever, conjunctivitis, tiredness, reduced activity, protrusion of the third eyelid, and difficulty in breathing. In cases where there are common bleeding sores, one may also notice a discharge from the nose that is a mixture of serum and blood, as well as a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes, known as icterus. Infected mammals commonly experience elevated body temperature, exhibit panting behavior, and display symptoms such as depression, muscle pain (myalgia), and nervousness.

An infection with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus may be presumed if cats that have outdoor access exhibit symptoms such as high fever and severe difficulty in breathing. This suspicion is particularly relevant when the virus has previously affected poultry and/or aquatic wild birds in the same area. However, it's important to note that the symptoms alone are not final and can be mistaken for feline upper respiratory disease syndrome caused by feline herpesvirus and calicivirus, or even bacterial pneumonia.

In Thailand, the owner of a cat provided information that the cat had consumed a dead pigeon five days prior to the onset of illness. The owner reported that the feline had a high temperature of 41°C, displayed panting behavior, and showed signs of depression. Additionally, the cat experienced seizures, exhibited ataxia (lack of coordination), and unfortunately passed away two days after the onset of illness. Numerous deceased pigeons were discovered in the vicinity of the cat's residence.

The veterinary authorities should be notified. Swabs from the mouth, nose, and rectum, as well as fecal samples, need to be collected from suspected cases for PCR testing and virus isolation. Furthermore, samples from the lungs and mediastinal lymph nodes should be obtained during autopsy. It is crucial to handle the cat and the samples with utmost caution.

All commonly used medical disinfectants are effective against the virus. If there are concerns of H5N1 infection in cats, it is crucial to maintain strict quarantine measures. Owners must be informed to keep their cats indoors to a separate room before taking them to the veterinary clinic.

How can cat owners reduce the risk of H5N1 infection in their cats?

Stay informed about the current epidemiological situation through national and local media.

Avoid feeding cats with uncooked poultry meat.

If there is a significant increase in wild bird deaths, it is advisable to keep cats indoors until more information about the cause is provided.


Subclinical Infection with Avian Influenza A H5N1 Virus in Cats

Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus in cats and other carnivores

Avian Influenza H5N1 in Naturally Infected Domestic Cat

H5N1 avian influenza in cats. ABCD guidelines on prevention and management

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  1. My cat is an important part of my life, and the article's information about the risk of H5N1 avian influenza transmission to cats is concerning. As a responsible pet owner, I will take necessary precautions to protect my cat from potential exposure to infected birds. I will ensure that my cat stays indoors and avoid feeding her uncooked poultry meat. It's crucial to stay informed about the current situation and follow guidelines to minimize the risk of H5N1 infection in cats. The health and well-being of my furry friend are of utmost importance to me.