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C2006-12

Dear Christopher Cat

I read that a cat in Germany died of bird flu in February. What can I do to protect my cats? If they get it, can I catch it from them?

Christopher Responds

The first European mammal to die of the H5N1 bird flu was a pet cat, who probably had eaten an infected migratory bird.

Studies show that domestic cats fed uncooked meat from H5N1-infected chickens can become infected themselves. Moreover, they can spread the disease to other cats, probably through respiratory secretions, feces and urine.

However, no strain of influenza virus – including the H5N1 virus that causes bird flu – has ever been reported to have spread from cats to humans.

Furthermore, bird flu has not been reported in any pets within the United States.

When it arrives in this country, it’s unlikely that your cats will become infected, even if they hunt outdoors.

That’s because the sparrows, pigeons and other small birds that outdoor cats kill are relatively resistant to the bird flu virus, compared to the wild waterfowl and migrating birds that serve as natural hosts.

To be on the safe side, though, you can do two things:

1) Keep your cats indoors.

2) Never feed uncooked poultry to cats. Instead, feed commercial cat food, because it is heated during the manufacturing process to temperatures above the 158 F required to destroy the H5N1 virus.

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