Can Your Pet Catch The Flu From You?

1So sorry for the lack of posts here lately!  I've been working long hours lately, and to top it off have been battling the flu.  Luckily Kitsune and company started the year off happy and healthy!  If there's one thing worse than being sick, it's watching our beloved pets  suffer through being sick!  Did you know that there's a version of the flu virus that infects dogs (Canine influenza), and there is increasing evidence that in rare cases pets may, in fact, be able to catch the flu from their human companions?

Zoonosis is a term that refers to an infectious disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans.  Examples of zoonotic diseases include anthrax, Ebola, E.coli infections, malaria, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the Plague.  Normally, when worrying about zoonosis, people are mostly concerned about humans becoming infected with diseases that can be passed on from animals.  However, reverse zoonosis, or the passing of diseases from humans to other animals, sometimes occurs as well.

Researchers from Oregon State University published an article back in 2012 which stated that, in some rare instances, "humans appear to have passed the H1N1 flu to cats and other animals, some of which have died of respiratory illness...Researchers are surveying flu transmission to household cat and dog populations, and suggest that people with influenza-like illness distance themselves from their pets."

Only 13 cats and 1 dog were confirmed to have developed pandemic H1N1 in the years 2011 and 2012.  An unspecified number of ferrets have also contracted the disease.  It's safe to assume that the total number of pets effected is probably higher, with a majority of cases most likely going unreported and/or unconfirmed.

Canine Influenza started out as equine (horse) flu, but is now transmittable between dogs.  H3N8, equine influenza, was first reported to cause illness in dogs in 2004.  Symptoms of H3N8 in dogs are very similar to flu symptoms in humans, and include coughing, runny noses, and fevers.  Most cases of Canine Influenza in dogs are mild, but the disease can rarely cause pneumonia, and sometimes death.  To date, there are no cases of the Canine Influenza virus causing sickness in humans.

Viruses continually mutate, adapting to find ways to propagate and cause illness even as our immune systems and medical science seeks to eliminate the germs.  If the swine flu pandemic taught us anything, it's that zoonotic strains of the flu can pose some very real dangers.  It's currently unknown whether the human flu virus will begin to infect more pets, or if occurrences will remain rare.  Either way, it's important to remain vigilant and proactive when it comes to your pet's health.  If you notice any signs of illness, especially those that are severe or do not improve on their own in a short time, it's probably best to pay your vet a visit.