Bird Flu in Pets and Other Animals

cat and dog

Although bird flu viruses mainly infect and spread among wild migratory water birds and domestic poultry, some bird flu viruses can infect and spread to other animals as well. Bird flu viruses have in the past been known to sometimes infect mammals that eat (presumably infected) birds or poultry, including but not limited to wild animals such as foxes and skunks; stray or domestic animals such cats and dogs; and zoo animals such as tigers and leopards.

While it’s unlikely that people would become infected with bird flu viruses through contact with an infected wild, stray, feral, or domestic mammal, it is possible—especially if there is prolonged and unprotected exposure to an infected animal. This page provides information for different groups of people who might have direct contact with infected or potentially infected sick or dead animals, including animals that might have eaten bird flu-infected birds.

Pet Owners

If your domestic animals (cats or dogs) go outside and could potentially eat sick or dead birds infected with bird flu viruses, they could be infected with bird flu. While it’s unlikely that you would get sick with bird flu through direct contact with your infected pet, it is possible. For example, in 2016, the spread of bird flu from a cat to a person was reported in NYC. The person who was infected was a veterinarian who had mild flu symptoms after prolonged exposure to sick cats without using personal protective equipment.

If your pet is showing signs of illness compatible with bird flu virus infection and has been exposed to infected (sick or dead) wild birds/poultry, you should monitor your health for signs of fever or infection.

Handling Wildlife
Hawk in a tree

If you find a sick or dead bird, check with your state health department, state veterinary diagnostic lab, or state wildlife agency on their policy for collecting dead and testing sick or dead animals.

People Who Have Had Direct Contact with Infected or Potentially Infected Animals

During outbreaks of bird flu in wild birds and/or poultry, people who have had direct contact with infected or potentially infected sick or dead animals, including sick animals that might have eaten bird flu-infected birds, should monitor their health for fever and symptoms of infection.

Signs and Symptoms may include:

  • Fever (Temperature of 100°F [37.8°C] or greater) or feeling feverish/chills*
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing/Shortness of breath
  • Conjunctivitis (eye tearing, redness, irritation, or discharge from eye)
  • Headaches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Diarrhea

*Fever may not always be present

Call your state/local health department immediately if you develop any of these signs or symptoms during the 10-days after your exposure to an infected or potentially infected animal. Discuss your potential exposure and ask about testing. If testing is recommended, isolate as much as possible until test results come back and/or you have recovered from your illness.

Additionally, close contacts (family members, etc.) of people who have been exposed to a person or animal with lab-confirmed bird flu viruses should also monitor their health for 10 days after their exposure for signs and symptoms of illness. If close contacts of people who have been exposed to H5 bird flu viruses develop signs and symptoms of illness, they should also contact their state health department.