Can domestic cats get avian flu?

Yes, domestic cats can get avian flu. However, very few cats contract the disease and the cats in a study who contracted the disease showed no clinical signs of influenza. Also, in this study there was no evidence of transmission from cat to cat of avian flu a.k.a. avian influenza H5N1.

H5N1. Image: Wikipedia.
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A study was conducted at the time that avian flu was a big issue. H5N1 was first discovered in domestic and wild cats in Asia. Tigers and leopards contracted it at a Thai zoo in 2003. In 2004 at the same zoo it is said that 147 tigers had died or were euthanised after contracting H5N1 (I find that odd because this is a very large number of tigers). At an outbreak in Germany in 2006 it was said that three stray cats were found to be dying or dead according to a report published in the journal Veterinary Microbiology but it is unclear, to me, from the reports that they were dying of avian flu.

However, the study I have referred to which is called Subclinical Infection with Avian Influenza A H5N1 Virus in Cats paints a picture of domestic cats rarely getting the disease even when in close contact with birds and showing no signs when they get it. In this study 194 shelter cats had access to an outdoor area near a poultry area separated by a wire fence. Some cats entered the poultry area.

In the poultry area there was a dying swan which had contracted H5N1. The disease had also infected 13 of 38 other birds in the enclosure. So the cats were exposed to the disease. Forty of the cats were randomly sampled for H5N1 and three were found to have contracted it. They were transferred to a quarantine area and monitored.

Despite the fact that they were in unfamiliar surroundings and therefore stressed and there was a possibility of contracting other diseases and the fact that it is said they had compromised immune systems, perhaps because they were stray cats with other diseases, “none of the cats developed clinical signs of influenza”.

The mode of transmission from bird to cat is either through eating the bird or by contact with faeces or saliva of infected birds.

At the time, 2007, the scientists said that there was no evidence that cats were responsible for transmitting the virus to humans.


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