GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Although two cases of H1N1 "swine" flu involving cats were confirmed in Colorado recently, a Glenwood Springs veterinarian doesn't believe it's a huge concern for pet owners locally.
However, with pets headed to kennels in the coming weeks while their owners are traveling for the holidays, it is a good idea to take precautions for any viruses that can impact both cats and dogs, including canine flu and kennel cough, said Dr. Robert Thorsen of All Dogs and Cats Vet Clinic in Glenwood.
And, in general, the same precautions that apply to contact between humans to prevent the spread of influenza and other communicable diseases, also apply to pets, he said.
"We haven't seen any cases [of H1N1] that I know of," Thorsen said. "Ferrets get it more than cats do. And with canines ]dogs], it's a totally different kind of flu than what people get."
Thorsen said his office has not treated any cases of flu in animals this season, although they have had cases in previous years.
"We occasionally have people say the whole family had the flu, and even the dog was sick," he said. "It's hard to say if dogs are susceptible to human flu, because most of the time they don't show any symptoms.
"With canine specific flu [referred to as H3N8], they do get really sick and have a discharge from their nose and mouth," Thorsen said.
As for cats, the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory reported last week that two cats from different households in Colorado had tested positive for H1N1.
"The felines are expected to recover, but their cases serve as a reminder to pet owners to seek veterinary attention for companion animals that appear to be ill," CSU veterinary experts urged in a press release.
Both cats were diagnosed with lower respiratory tract infections by Colorado veterinarians, and have been ill for multiple weeks.
"This flu has also been identified in ferrets, exotic cats and birds in the United States, so any companion animal that appears to have the flu should get immediate attention," said Kristy Pabilonia, a veterinarian and expert on H1N1 testing in animals at CSU.
Thorsen said there are vaccines and inter-nasal sprays available for both cats and dogs for illnesses that can passed between animals, especially in kennel environments.
Those planning to kennel a dog or cat ideally would want to have a vaccine done five weeks beforehand and again two weeks prior for the greatest immunity, he said. However, vaccines can be done the same day a pet is put in the kennel and still be effective, he said.
"Except for the occasional canine flu, we really don't see [animal flu cases] that often," Thorsen said. "We mostly just see a lot of stress-related conditions, like diarrhea, when animals go into the kennel."
As for flu spreading from humans to pets, Pabilonia recommends that pet owners practice social distancing with pets just as they would with people.
"People who are ill should wash their hands before handling pets and, if possible, have someone who is well feed and care for pets," she said.