The recent discovery of H1N1 influenza in a pet ferret has led to another round of concern about the potential impact of H1N1 on pets and pets as a source of human infection. Finding H1N1 in a ferret is not particularly surprising, considering ferrets are susceptible to various (including human) influenza viruses. We shouldn’t dismiss the potential that certain pets could become infected by this virus or transmit, it but the overall risks are presumed to be very low. There have obviously been many, many cases of H1N1 influenza in pet owners, yet there is just this one report in a pet (although it’s certainly possible that other pets have been infected but not diagnosed). Ferrets may be the biggest concern. Pet birds and pot-bellied pigs may also be at higher risk considering this virus can clearly infect pigs and birds. Cats are probably a bigger concern than dogs because of what we know about cats’ susceptibility to (and ability to shed) H5N1 (avian) influenza.

The risks are low to pets and pet owners, but there’s rarely a no-risk situation with infectious diseases. A few basic measures should be taken to reduce the risks associated with this pandemic virus:

  • If you have (or think you may have) influenza, treat you pet like other people in your family. Avoid contact with them, especially their faces, and pay close attention to hygiene (especially handwashing). This should help reduce the risk of exposing your pet to H1N1.
  • If you have influenza, or your pet has been exposed to anyone with influenza, and your pet becomes ill (e.g. respiratory disease, fever, lethargy), contact your veterinarian. Avoid close contact with your sick pet (especially the face) and wash your hands after you handle it.
  • Relax and enjoy the company of your pet. The risks of influenza are low.