The escalating bird flu epidemic in Europe took another twist when the H5N1 strain was confirmed to have killed a cat, the first time it has been positively identified in a European mammal.
The cat was discovered on Ruegen, a Baltic Sea island in Germany, which is the site of most of Germany’s cases of bird flu. Scientists said the cat was found close to an area where more than 100 dead birds killed by the virus had been discovered in just over a week. It was the first known and recorded case in the EU of the virus crossing the species barrier and infecting mammals.
Scientists at Germany’s Friederich Löffler Institute planned to test the cat to determine whether it was infected with the deadly strain which has led to humans contracting the disease. Thomas Mettenleiter, the Institute’s President, commented, “We know from the Asian experience that cats can infect themselves with the virus if they eat contaminated birds. However, we do not know what that means for humans. Theoretically, humans can only contract the disease if they are in very close contact with infected animals. If people see a cat with cold symptoms in the area, they should contact a vet immediately.”
The discovery led to German officials warning people on Ruegen to keep cats inside and walk dogs on leads in the area. In an attempt to reassure the public, officials said that in all previously reported cases the only mammals to have contracted the disease were domestic cats, big cats and ferrets.
However, despite this official line that the risk of infection was low, many pet owners were said to be panicking. Some are said to have asked for pet vaccinations, whilst others are reported to have gone so far as to abandon their cats and dogs at local animal shelters for fear of catching the virus themselves.
However, the discovery on Ruegen raised concerns about further transmission between species and the possibility of humans becoming infected. A Biologist from Marburg University, Hans-Dieter Klenk, said that the danger to humans was greater simply because cats were mainly domestic.
German cases of bird flu have also been found in two wild birds in Bavaria, with five states recording cases of H5N1.
There are also unconfirmed reports that another two cats have died of the virus in Germany. Some German states plan to increase stocks of anti-viral drugs for inoculating 20 percent of the population should the worst happen.
Stray dog dies
Bird flu has also been found to have jumped species when health officials announced that a stray dog in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, had died of the virus. Officials reported that three young women had died from bird flu recently, the country’s first human deaths, and confirmed the dog’s death three days later.
The World Health Organisation has yet to confirm that bird flu was the cause of these deaths, but it also said that the laboratory that carried out the tests was reliable. If confirmed, the official WHO human death total would stand at 101.
As yet there have been no confirmed cases of the virus passing from person to person. It is thought that close contact with domestic poultry has led to the virus infecting humans, though scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that can pass from person to person and become widespread.
Though the virus does not yet exist within the British Isles, the fact that it has appeared in mainland Europe, along with the Turkish human deaths and the recent culling of thousands of turkeys in France, has raised fears that the virus is destined to arrive here.
Government officials are preparing for the possibility of a UK outbreak of bird flu in spring and autumn. As birds return north from their winter migration, experts suppose that returning birds may bring the virus back with them. They believe this is even more likely in autumn as birds migrate south.
One official said that efforts have been stepped up to monitor birds for the virus, as well as groups from the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds (RSPB) attempting to locate any dead animals that could be possible victims.
In doing this, planners believe that identification and culling, plus an exclusion zone around any discoveries, should prevent the spread of the virus, as seems to be the case in France after the virus was identified in poultry. Other advice will ask farmers to take their animals under cover to reduce the risk, and for pet owners to keep cats inside and dogs on a lead.
However, the RSPB believes that the chances of the disease being carried to Britain is minimal due to the migration patterns of birds.
THE WORLD Health Organisation released a statement assuring the general public that the recent infection of domestic cats with avian influenza represents no new threat to humans. It said that infection in cats “is not considered likely to enhance the present risk to human health.”
DEFRA released a statement regarding cats and avian flu.
“We know the cat family can catch avian influenza. We understand avian influenza H5N1 virus has been found in a dead cat found on the island of Ruegen, where avian influenza H5N1 has been identified in a number of wild birds including swans.
“We believe H5N1 infection in cats under natural circumstances is rare as there are few confirmed reports of it occurring. Defra is urgently seeking further scientific advice on this.
“We are not currently advising cat owners of any need for precautionary measures at the moment because surveillance of wild birds for H5N1 in the UK has shown no evidence of infection.”
Are our pets living longer?
A leading UK pet charity is asking the question as to whether the nation’s pets are living longer, happier and healthier lives, mirroring the growing population of human OAPs
If you are the proud owner of an Old Aged Pet (OAP), don’t miss your opportunity to take part in the first national census of UK ‘pet pensioners’.
The PDSA, the UK’s leading veterinary charity, is asking pet owners to log-on to its website to help provide vital clues. Initial findings from PDSA treatment data, from the 4,650 sick and injured pets treated daily at PDSA PetAid hospitals nationwide, indicate that over one in ten cats and dogs treated by PDSA vets are aged between 11 and 14 years.
Pet owners can join in the census via a questionnaire at the PDSA website, or can pick up a questionnaire at a PDSA PetAid hospital. Responses must be received by Monday, 10 April.
As a key component of PDSA’s mission to promote responsible pet ownership, the census will not only look to investigate how improvements in veterinary healthcare have affected the life expectancy of our household pets, but will also measure how pet owners have responded to responsible pet care messages, such as the importance of vaccination, neutering, diet and exercise.
PDSA senior veterinary surgeon Elaine Pendlebury said: “People in the 21st century are living longer due to better diets and improved healthcare. In the same way we hope the ‘PDSA pet pensioner’ census will provide a snap-shot of how this trend may also be reflected in the pet population. A cat or dog that was once your childhood chum can very often be a friend in adulthood with the right balance of veterinary care, diet and exercise, plus that all-important TLC.”
7000-mile dash to find missing cat
Cat owner Nicki White proved there’s no limit on love when she learned that her cat Ben had gone missing whilst she was on holiday - she made a 26-hour, 7000 mile mercy flight back home to Wiltshire to help find him.
Nicki had been holidaying in South Africa with her fiance Finn Spicer when the phone call came from her housesitting mother Ann to say Ben had disappeared. Without hesitation Nicki decided to cut short her holiday to return to England and find Ben, a three-year-old ginger tom who shares her home with another cat aptly named Bill.
Finn, who stayed on in South Africa, gamely drove Nicki the six hour journey to Cape Town where Nicki boarded the £1,000 flight home.
Nicki explained: “Finn and I were having a wonderful time but when Ben disappeared there was only one option. People might think it’s mad but I love that cat so much that I had to do everything I could to find him.
Happily, Nicki?s mercy mission proved worthwhile when Ben came home safe and sound some 13 days after he had disappeared. “I can’t explain it, but at 3am I suddenly woke up with a cold shudder and knew I had to look out of my bedroom window,” said Nicki. “I saw Ben sitting outside on the doormat.
“I was so excited that I woke my mum up and ran downstairs screaming and shouting. He’s very thin but otherwise he’s OK. I don’t consider 13 to be an unlucky number any more.”
Now Nicki and Finn plan to give Ben and Bill walk-on roles at their forthcoming wedding - where they’ll no doubt be keeping a very close eye on Ben!
Town in fear over sick attacks on cats
CAT OWNERS in a West Yorkshire town are living in fear that yobs may be letting their dogs savage cats as part of a sick craze.
David and Ann Capstick from Beaumont Park, Huddersfield believe their cat may have been the victim of a deliberate attack by two dogs set upon it by the dogs’ owners, while a neighbouring woman claims her mother’s cat had a lucky escape some weeks ago when youths let their dog chase and try to attack it.
The unnamed woman explained: “It happened about five weeks ago. We heard all this noise and rushed out to see one hooded youth down the driveway and another down the drive next door.
“One was watching his terrier chasing the cat. He seemed taken aback when he saw us. He clearly thought no one was in and claimed the dog had jumped off its lead.
“It was only when we read what happened to the other cat in Crosland Moor that we realised what we saw could be significant, but we were very suspicious at the time.”
Mr and Mrs Capstick spoke out after a local newspaper featured a story reporting that police had released CCTV images showing a brown family cat named Tigger allegedly being given to a dog to kill in the Marsh district of the town. It is now feared that other youths are trying to emulate this sick attack.
The couple’s Siamese cat, Flame, was outside when the couple went out one day earlier this month. When they returned to their home on Delves Wood Road, Beaumont Park, there was no sight of the pet.
Mr Capstick, 58, started to search for him and was told by neighbours that they had seen two hooded youths with dogs outside the couple’s home that afternoon and the dogs - described as a Bullmastiff and a husky-type – had run down the path. He subsequently found clumps of Flame’s fur and claw marks on the ground where it is feared the cat may have been dragged.
Mr Capstick said: “There has been absolutely no sign of Flame since and we fear he has been killed by these dogs. The clumps of fur led us to think he was attacked.”
A 19-year-old Huddersfield man has been arrested in connection with the original incident involving Tigger and released on police bail pending further inquiries. His dog has also been seized.