H1N1 Flu Virus: For Pet Owners (FAQ)

Updated February 14, 2011

These questions and answers are based on what is currently known about the virus, and will be updated as we get new information.

Q: Can my pet get the 2009 H1N1 virus?

A: Until October 2009, we had no reason to believe pets could be infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus because it is very uncommon for flu viruses to jump between species. However, on October 9, 2009, a USDA laboratory confirmed 2009/H1N1 infection in a ferret. The ferret's owner had recently been ill with the flu. Ferrets are more susceptible to infection with influenza viruses, so this was not altogether surprising. A second ferret was confirmed to be infected with the virus in late October – this ferret died. At this time, there are no reports of the 2009 H1N1 flu virus being transmitted from a ferret to a person.

Since that time, 2009 H1N1 flu has been confirmed in ferrets, cats and a dog in the U.S. On November 4, the Iowa State Veterinarian and the Iowa Department of Public Health announced that a pet cat was confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. The cat's owners were ill and the cat developed respiratory symptoms shortly afterward. The cat has recovered and there is no evidence at this time that the cat passed the virus to any people. A second cat, this one in Utah, was confirmed infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus on November 13. Like the first cat, the cat's owner was ill with flu-like symptoms prior to the cat's illness. The cat had difficult breathing and was taken to a veterinarian for treatment. The cat is recovering from its illness.

A third cat, in Oregon, died from 2009 H1N1 influenza-related pneumonia. As with the other cats, this cat showed signs of respiratory disease after a human member of the household had been ill with flu-like symptoms. Despite treatment, the cat died. Tests confirmed infection with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

Two cats in different households in Colorado were confirmed to be infected with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus in early December 2009. Both cats recovered from their illness.

A sixth cat confirmed to be infected with the virus died in late November. This cat had pre-existing respiratory problems – severe pneumonia and fluid accumulation inside its chest caused the cat's death despite veterinary treatment.

The seventh infected cat, and the third to die in the U.S. from complications related to 2009 H1N1 influenza infection, lived in Pennsylvania.

France confirmed 2009 H1N1 infection in a cat on December 8. The 5-year old cat became ill after 2 children in the household had been ill.

On November 28, the Chinese press reported that 2 dogs in Beijing tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. We have not yet been able to confirm this report and do not have information about the signs of illness the dogs were showing, how they were diagnosed and treated, and if they have recovered. On December 21, 2009 a dog in New York state was confirmed to be infected with 2009 H1N1 influenza after it showed signs of illness following its owner's illness with confirmed 2009 H1N1 influenza infection. The dog is recovering from its illness.

On December 22, 2009, an 8-year old female domestic shorthaired cat in southern California tested positive for 2009 H1N1 influenza. Like the other infected pets to date, this cat's owner was previously ill with flu-like symptoms. The cat is recovering from its illness.

On January 15, 2010, it was reported than an 8-year old female domestic shorthaired cat in Colorado had tested positive for 2009 H1N1 influenza. This cat also had a feline herpesvirus infection. Although there was no known exposure to a person ill with flu-like symptoms, the cat had recently been adopted from a shelter and may have been infected prior or during its short shelter stay or had been exposed to a infected, but asymptomatic, person. None of the other cats at the shelter showed signs of illness. The cat is recovering from its illness.

No additional confirmed cases of 2009 H1N1 infection in pets were reported until February 2011, when IDEXX Laboratories announced that the virus was confirmed in a 6-year old cat in Wisconsin. The cat deteriorated and was euthanized. A second (10-year old) cat in the household also developed severe respiratory disease and was euthanized due to failure to respond to treatment; although samples from that cat were negative for the virus, 2009 H1N1 influenza remains the presumptive cause of illness and death in the second cat. The owner of the cats had been ill with flu-like symptoms prior to the cats' illness.

Pets that live indoors, especially cats, tend to have close contact with their owners – after all, that's why we have pets – and that increases their chances of being exposed to diseases. The best advice is to always follow common sense guidelines when dealing with animals (for example, washing your hands). In addition, it's more important than ever that pet owners keep a good eye on their pet's health and consult a veterinarian if their pet is showing any signs of illness. Keeping your pets healthy reduces their risk of becoming ill.

Q: I've heard about ferrets, cats and dogs getting the 2009 H1N1 virus. Should I get rid of my pet so my family is protected?

A: Certainly not. This is not cause for panic and extreme measures. You are much more likely to catch the flu (any type of flu, including the 2009 H1N1 flu) from an infected person than you are from an animal. So far, all of the pets infected with the 2009 H1N1 virus became infected from being around their ill owners with one exception – a Colorado cat with no known exposure, but a recent stay in an animal shelter, and authorities could not rule out exposure to an infected person who was not showing symptoms but still carrying the virus. The main lesson here is that if you're feeling ill and have flu-like symptoms, you should probably limit your contact with your pets (and other people, for that matter) until you are feeling better. As always, if your pet is showing signs of illness, it should be examined by a veterinarian.

Q: The 2009 H1N1 virus has infected poultry. What about my pet bird? Can it be infected?

A: We know it can infect poultry, but we don't know if it can affect other birds (including pet birds). To date, there have not been any reports of confirmed 2009 H1N1 influenza in pet birds or wild birds.

Q: What symptoms would I see in my pet if it developed H1N1?

A: Based on what's been reported, ferrets, cats and dogs have shown signs of respiratory illness. These signs can include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, runny nose and/or eyes, sneezing, coughing, or changes in breathing (including difficulty breathing). Several cats with severe disease have died.

Keep in mind that dogs currently have their own flu virus, the H3N8 influenza (canine influenza) virus, going around. So far, this flu virus has only been spread from dog to dog. Dogs infected with the canine influenza virus show the same symptoms as dogs with kennel cough – fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, and maybe a runny nose. For more in-depth information on canine influenza, view our canine influenza backgrounder.

Q: How serious is this disease in dogs or cats?

A: We don't yet know. There haven't been many reports of animals in the U.S. infected with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. Just as with people, the illness can vary. Four of the eleven infected cats recovered from their illness and five cats died of severe pneumonia. The one dog confirmed to be infected with 2009 H1N1 in the U.S. (in New York) recovered from its illness. It is possible that other pets have been infected but have shown no symptoms and have successfully fought off the virus without appearing ill. This isn't a cause for concern, but is actually a good sign that our pets are able to successfully fight off infection and illness due to the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

Q: Should I keep the people in the house who have respiratory disease away from the pet and vice-versa?

A: Until we know more about the risks of spreading the virus from person to pet, pet to pet, or pet to person, it's a good idea to limit contact between an ill family member and other family members and pets. If your pet is ill, contact your veterinarian.

Q: Is there a vaccine that can be used for pets? Can the human H1N1 vaccine be used for pets? What about the canine influenza vaccine?

A: There is not a licensed and approved 2009 H1N1 vaccine for pets. The human H1N1 and swine H1N1 vaccines should not be used for pets. The canine influenza vaccine, which protects dogs from the H3N8 flu virus, will not protect pets against the 2009 H1N1 virus and should not be used in any species other than dogs.

Q: Someone in my home is ill and may have the 2009 H1N1 virus. Should we board our pet(s) until this person has recovered?

A: That decision is really up to you. Your pet may have already been exposed to the virus by the time the family member starts showing symptoms, so it might not be best to uproot your pet, possibly stressing them, and put them in another environment. If you're worried your pet may become infected with the influenza virus, treat your pet like you would any other family member – follow good hygiene when you come in contact with them, and limit their exposure to ill family members.

Q: Can my pot-bellied pig get the 2009 H1N1 virus and give it to me?

A: To date, the 2009 H1N1 virus has not been reported in pot-bellied pigs. However, the possibility of human-to-pig transmission of the virus warrants extra caution by pig owners. After all, pot-bellied pigs are considered swine, and therefore may be susceptible to the virus. For the time being, a cautious approach would include all contact between your pig and anyone who is ill or has recently been exposed to an ill person. Remember that pot-bellied pigs can become ill from a number of causes, and keeping your pig healthy and free of disease helps protect your pig as well as you. If you have a pet pig and it appears ill, consult a veterinarian immediately.

Links to more information about the 2009 H1N1 flu

AVMA
Straight talk about the H1N1 virus
Dr. DeHaven, Chief Executive Officer of the AVMA, speaks with Bob Meyer of Brownfield (includes audio)

Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association, explains H1N1 and how it affects people, their pets, and the food they eat. (May 1, 2009)

American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV)
AASV Human Cases of Swine Influenza

Flu.gov
Interactive timeline on H1N1: The Year in Review

CDC
CDC H1N1 Flu
For general information on H1N1 flu, general health information guidelines, updates on the status of the H1N1 flu outbreak, and travel advisories

2009 H1N1 Flu Frequently Asked Questions (including questions about H1N1 and domestic animals)

Interim Guidance for Workers who are Employed at Commercial Swine Farms: Preventing the Spread of Influenza A Viruses, Including the 2009 H1N1 Virus

USDA
USDA H1N1 flu information page

OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health)
A/H1N1 influenza like human illness in Mexico and the USA: OIE statement

OIE/FAO Network of Expertise on Animal Influenza (Offlu)

OIE/FAO Offlu list of international veterinary diagnostic laboratories for submission of suspected Pandemic H1N1 2009 swine samples or isolates

World Health Organization (WHO)
WHO Swine Influenza