Cats Are Getting Bird Flu


At least nine cats in Poland have died of H5N1 bird flu, officials have confirmed as they continue to investigate this unusual cluster of illnesses, according to printed reports.

Out of 11 samples tested so far, nine have come back positive for H5N1 bird flu, according to a statement from the General Veterinary Inspectorate. The cats lived in different parts of the country.

“Further detailed testing of the genetic material of the viruses is underway,” the agency said.

Poland’s chief veterinary officer has said that cat owners should keep cats indoors, to prevent contact with wild animals, including birds, and to only feed their cats with food from known sources.

Concerns were first raised on June 18 when a vet in western Poland reported the death of a cat which had suffered from neurological and respiratory symptoms. Since then, dozens of similar cases have been reported across the country.

At least 70 suspected cases have been identified across Poland, according to figures released last week.

It’s Not Only Poland, It’s Also Happening in the U.S.

Since avian flu is so incredibly rare in cats, no one knows why it’s popping up now. It’s also unknown whether any cases were the result of cat-to-cat transmission. And it’s not only Poland.

In December, a cat living near a duck farm in southern France was euthanized after becoming severely ill with H5N1 bird flu. This was the first time a cat was infected with the new strain of H5N1, which emerged in late 2021 and has spread around the world. At least six cats in the U.S. have since also died of H5N1.

In April,  the Canadian Public Health Agency confirmed that a dog in Ontario had died of H5N1 bird flu after chewing on a dead goose. It was the first time a dog tested positive for the new strain of the virus.
The next big question, can this strain be spread to humans. So far, the answer is no, as far as anyone knows.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says, Bird owners should immediately contact their veterinarian or call the USDA toll-free hotline (866-536-7593) to report sick birds, including backyard flocks and migratory birds like ducks and geese.

There are many arguments for keeping cats indoors, now, here’s another. It is likely that at least some of these affected cats have ingested sick birds. Also, not a bad idea to keep dogs from snacking on or even sniffing dead or dying birds. Also, be sure to sanitize yourself before returning home to your pets if you happen to handle a sick bird (always suggested but now more than ever).  The good news is UK researchers seemed to have discovered a gene which protects nearly all humans from the bird flu.

To be clear, whatever is happening – it’s not widespread, so there’s no reason to panic. Preventing household pet exposure to birds can’t hurt.