Though most of us probably checked "bird flu" off our list of imminently worrisome diseases years ago, a recent outbreak among New York's feline community may be fresh cause for concern. More than 450 cats are currently quarantined in a Queens Animal Care Center after being exposed to the avian disease, as DNAinfo reports.
The cats were brought in from shelters all over the city after exhibiting symptoms of the disease, and the New York Times reports that "in November, cats at the shelters started getting sick at an alarming rate." The cats currently in quarantine will be held for 45 to 90 days and undergo lab tests to ensure their good healthy before being returned to the shelter system, and hopefully, their eventual new homes.
As for city pet owners, anyone who adopted a cat from an Animal Care Center shelter between November 12th and December 15th is advised to keep an eye out for symptoms, which include sneezing, coughing runny nose, red eyes, and per this helpful fact sheet from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, "general malaise." The fact sheet also notes that no cases have been reported outside of the shelter system at this point—meaning the disease hasn't spread further—and that there is no evidence of spread to humans.
However, if you do think your cat may be showing symptoms, your best bet is to take them to a veterinarian, and advise them ahead of time that you're concerned about influenza specifically. "Any time an owner see their cat is sneezing, coughing, or has significant nasal or eye discharge, they'll want to touch base with a veternarian," advises Dr. Erin Wilson, medical director of the ASPCA Adoption Center. "The good news about this influenza is that, in terms of clinical appearance, it is pretty much indistinguishable from upper respiratory infections, which are very common in cats."
For this reason, the treatment will more or less be the same as it would be if your cat had a run-of-the-mill cold, though some cats have required antibiotics. "In terms of medical care, it's no different than for any other cat with an upper respiratory infection," says Wilson. "Sometimes it's like when humans have a cold—you'll want to provide extra yummy food, a nice warm place to sleep, that kind of thing."
"We're very fortunate that this was contained quickly and doesn't seem to be showing significant clinical signs," Wilson adds.
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