Vets Address Concerns about the Risk Avian Influenza Poses to Cats

Veterinarians offer advice to cat owners on how they can help prevent their cat from getting the avian flu.

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CatChannel.com recently ran a news item about the reactions of European cat owners when a German cat was found to have the H5N1 bird-flu strain. Many owners began dropping off or abandoning their cat to animal shelters.

Currently, German officials are enforcing a cat curfew requiring owners in affected areas to keep their cats indoors, reported ABC News. Other countries have established quarantine zones where avian flu has been discovered.

The question is whether or not people are overreacting.

[The response] is understandable, Diane Levitan, DVM, founder and director of the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care in New York, told CatChannel.com. They have seen the economic impact it has already caused.

However, cat owners need to understand that currently there is no bird flu in the United States, she said. The panic also stems from the fact that cat owners don't understand how to prevent it.

If it did get to this point, pet owners should follow state and Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Dr. Levitan said. This would probably include keeping cats indoors and not feeding them uncooked poultry.

She also said that the virus is killed at 70° C.

We don't know if cats can spread [the virus] to humans, but it is unlikely, said Lorraine Corriveau, DVM, who heads the exotic pet and bird service for Purdues School of Veterinary Medicine.

Pet owners need to watch for clinical signs of respiratory problems and see their veterinarians if they spot any of the usual signs of a virus, such as runny eyes and nose or cough, Dr. Corriveau said. Common viruses other than the flu can cause these signs in dogs, cats and birds. Many can be managed successfully in adult pets with proper supportive care.

She also said that cat owners can minimize risk by disinfecting cages and toys regularly.

Overall, if you see a dead bird, don't pick it up, she said.

Posted: March 21, 2006, 3 p.m. PST

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