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D.C. Pet Owners Worry About Feline H1N1

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Dr. Ashley Hughes of Friendship Hospital for Animals and her patient, a chihuahua named Pepper.
Rebecca Sheir
Dr. Ashley Hughes of Friendship Hospital for Animals and her patient, a chihuahua named Pepper.

By Rebecca Sheir

As the first cat found to have H1N1 recovers in Iowa, pet owners in the D.C. area are wondering how to keep their animals virus-free.

The World Health Organization says the cat isn't the first non-human to get H1N1 from an infected person. "They've confirmed cases in pigs, birds and ferrets. They haven't confirmed anything in dogs yet," says Dr. Ashley Hughes of the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Northwest Washington.

Last week's feline diagnosis sparked a surge of concerned phone calls to the hospital, but Hughes urged people to stay calm "because it's not unexpected that H1N1, like many other flu viruses, can jump species."

As more humans become infected, the WHO expects that transmission of the virus from humans to other animals will occur with greater frequency.

Hughes is quick to note, however, that even though humans can spread H1N1 to pets, the WHO does not "believe animals can give it to people." Hughes encourages pet owners to practice good hygiene like washing hands and covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.

"And if you're sick," she says, "don't snuggle with your cat. Just like when they're sick they want to go off and be by themselves, you should probably stay off by yourself until you get better."

And if any of your animals exhibit certain symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose or eyes, decreased appetite, lethargy or fever, Hughes recommends you call your veterinarian.

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