Can cats really catch and die from bird flu?

According to Science News, feeding pets raw meat, especially raw poultry, has been linked to some cases of bird flu.
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Yes, cats can catch and even die from bird flu, specifically the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. This has raised concerns about the risks this ongoing outbreak poses not just for our feline friends but also for their human owners.

When bird flu viruses infect mammals, they can mutate randomly, potentially allowing them to replicate more efficiently in mammalian cells. This increases the possibility that bird flu could adapt to spread easily among people.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on May 24 that there are no signs yet of the virus developing the changes needed to transmit easily from person to person. So far, most human cases have involved people with close contact with poultry or livestock.

How do cats catch bird flu?

Cats primarily get infected by hunting and catching wild birds, says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and environmental epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Whether they eat the birds or not, the contact alone might be sufficient.

Additionally, according to Science News, feeding pets raw meat, especially raw poultry, has been linked to some cases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently found viral particles in the muscle and other tissues of a dairy cow being culled, highlighting that raw beef might also carry the virus. For anyone worried about their summer cookouts, the agency notes that cooking beef to at least 145°F (medium) is enough to inactivate the virus.

Can cats die from bird flu?

Sadly, yes. The mortality rate for H5N1 in cats appears high. The virus has also impacted wild felines, killing pumas and bobcats and affecting captive leopards and tigers. Symptoms before death included stiff movements, wobbliness, circling, runny noses, and blindness.

There have been rare cases where humans contracted bird flu from pets or farm animals. While the exact odds of transmission from animals to humans remain unclear, especially for those with weakened immune systems, public health agencies stress that the risk is low for those not exposed to infected birds or animals.

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