A pet dog died after contracting avian flu, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada said Tuesday that a dog in Oshawa, Ont., had “been infected with avian influenza” after chewing on a wild goose. The virus eventually killed the dog.
The agency reports this is “the only case of its kind in Canada,” however, it encourages pet owners to take “appropriate precautions to protect their pets and themselves.” What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza, often known as bird flu, is a virus that mainly affects avian animals such as chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks. While influenza virus strains mostly infect birds, they can also infect people and, on rare occasions, domestic animals.
Contact with ill birds is the most common way to catch bird flu. In the instance of the Oshawa dog, the animal became infected with avian influenza H5N1 by gnawing on a dead wild goose. What is the risk of avian flu for pets?
According to Shayan Sharif, professor and acting dean of Ontario Veterinary College, the danger of your pet catching avian influenza is “extremely low.” However, this does not mean that it “does not pose a risk.” There have been avian influenza cases among cats and dogs, however, those are “very rare events” that “don’t happen very often.”
The danger to your average dog is “really low, but it’s not zero,” echoes J. Scott Weese, a veterinary internal medicine specialist with a focus on infectious diseases. “There are things we can do to reduce that risk like keeping dogs away from wildlife, especially dead wildlife, and [to exercise caution] in areas that you don’t know what you’re going to encounter.”
How does your pet contract avian flu? An individual can get avian influenza if they come into touch with sick birds or contaminated feces, whether they are a bird, a pet, or a person. Vets advise using the Oshawa dog case as a warning to your four-legged friends to avoid interaction with animals.
“It’s a reminder to keep animals and people away from wildlife,” says Weese. The less contact there is, “the more we can reduce the risk of lots of things,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “That includes rabies, the flu; it includes a whole list of diseases we’re concerned about.”
Furthermore, Sharif advises against feeding domestic animals raw poultry or uncooked eggs. “I’m not saying you would find the virus in poultry,” he says. “But I think it would be highly advisable not to give pets any raw poultry meat.”
What are the symptoms of avian flu in cats and dogs? Sharif advises pet owners who suspect their animals have come into touch with an infected bird to watch for signs similar to human influenza.
“Running a high fever, lack of energy, coughing, things like that,” he says. “In some cases, it could be neurological signs like tremors and seizures, and, unfortunately, in some cases, it could lead to death.” How can you keep your pet safe?
“The best thing for people concerned about this is just to keep control of their animals, don’t expose them to wildlife, and really relax,” says Weese. “At this point, we’ve had a very small number of mammals become affected despite large numbers of birds. So it’s not impossible, but the risk for dogs is really, really low.”
Sharif tells pet owners to “err on the side of caution” when out and about with their animals. “Make sure dogs are kept on a leash” and keep them away from birds and fecal matter, as inhaling or consuming feces from infected birds is another way to catch the virus, he says.