Having recently contracted a dog in ontario Bird flu And he died, experts say pet owners should be more vigilant — though the risk of transmission to mammals remains low.
The infectious strain, called H5N1, also known as avian influenza, is a highly pathogenic form of the avian influenza A virus and is easily transmitted between birds. Although it is rare for it to spread to mammals, its numbers are increasing across Canada.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reported that a dog from Oshawa, Ontario contracted avian influenza after munching on wild goose, then showed “clinical signs.” The case was confirmed on April 1, and the autopsy, which showed respiratory involvement in the death, was completed on April 3.
Although the CFIA said the risk of humans and pets contracting the virus remains low, Scott Weese, a veterinary internal medicine specialist and professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, said pet owners should be careful because the risk is not zero.
“This dog could have been easily missed because if they hadn’t noticed facing the bird, it wouldn’t have triggered any testing,” he said. “So is this the only dog infected in Canada, or is it the only dog diagnosed? It’s hard to say.”
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In general, it is rare for household pets to contract bird flu, but the problem occurs when “there is a lot of background noise,” he explains.
“If it’s a rare, one-in-a-million chance, but you’ve got millions and millions of birds, that one-in-a-million chance starts to become more common.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the ongoing circulation of poultry as a concern. During a World Health Organization briefing on Thursday, infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said transmission from poultry to mammals is “always a cause for concern”.
“As a pathogen that has this zoonotic risk, this indirect risk, the concern is whether it has this amplification aspect,” she said. “It is something the organization takes very seriously as pathogens have pandemic and pandemic potential.”
Hunting dogs may be more at risk
Transmission between mammals usually occurs when an animal eats or chews on a bird, said Levon Abrahamian, a virologist at the University of Montreal.
“These cases are very rare, and they occur when there is very direct contact with a large number of viral particles,” he said. And this can happen with a dog or any animal, including a human, that has been in close contact with a high concentration of the virus. “
Abrahamian said this is why bird flu has been transmitted more to “opportunistic predators” such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, wild cats and ferrets.
For example, last month Eight skunks were found dead in the Vancouver area tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza virus. British Columbia health officials said the skunks may have contracted the virus by eating infected wild birds.
In terms of which pets get infected, Abrahamian believes hounds are most at risk.
Duck hunting in Canada Usually in the fallbut if bird flu continues to spread across the country, the virus may still be present in September and October.
“In the case of domestic dogs, it’s very rare for a dog to get it. The dog that could be most at risk is a hunting dog,” Abrahamian warned. “I highly recommend that hunters take precautions now that we have highly contagious flu among wild birds.
“They should monitor their dogs because a dead bird has a higher chance of contracting the virus, because you don’t know the cause of death.”
How to protect your pet from bird flu
Avian influenza affects all types of birds such as ducks, swans and geese. It particularly affects those who tend to stay in flocks or huddle together. The virus is transmitted from one bird to another through secretions, feces, contaminated feed, water and equipment. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Safety and Health.
It can also be fatal, so when scavengers like a skunk (or even a dog) eat an infected bird, they can contract the virus, too.
“We don’t want the dogs to wander into places where they’ve been meeting up close with, say, a goose, because geese tend to stand their ground,” Weese said. “Your dog will come up and bark at it and the geese will bark again. And that is the close contact we want to prevent.”
If there’s a park that dog owners enjoy, but it’s overrun with geese at this time of year, Weese said it’s probably not a great place to take your pet, because the goal is to “minimize that bridge between wildlife and pets.”
The bird flu virus spreads to mammals
Wiz said he has two dogs of his own and lives in rural Ontario, so there are ducks and geese everywhere.
“I don’t get overly restrictive with my dogs, but I wouldn’t let them go goose-chasing in a pond. If there was a dead bird, I would definitely put it away and be more restrained. But I wouldn’t keep them completely on a leash in areas where I know we don’t see a lot of birds.”
In terms of feeding pets raw meat, Weisz said that if your dog is on a raw meat diet, there should be no risk of bird flu because it’s like buying poultry at the grocery store.
“There is no risk of catching the flu there,” he explained. Poultry is monitored really well. They will not enter the food chain if they are infected.”
But he warned that dog owners should not catch their birds to feed their dogs, or have their own backyard poultry, as these are sources of “massive amplification” of the virus.
Are there risks with feeding birds and bird flu?
With cases of avian influenza rising steadily in Canada, Weese said bird feeders could pose a risk, especially for “the birds themselves, as feeders are sites of mixing.”
“You’re bringing together birds that might not otherwise be close together. And you’re also creating more of a risk of the birds’ excreta and bird poop being in the feeder. So it could be a place where you’re going to amplify the virus if one of them has it,” he said.
There is also the risk of the bird feeder bringing in more animals close to humans and pets.
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He recommends keeping cats indoors if possible, but acknowledges that it can be difficult to do in some situations.
“If you have an outdoor cat especially, it’s probably not a good idea to have a feeder because it creates more opportunity for that cat to catch a bird and then the cat is more likely to catch a sick bird,” Weese added.
If people like to maintain their feeder or bird bath in the spring and summer, Abrahamian recommends washing it frequently with a mixture of vinegar and soap, in order to maintain a clean environment.
“You don’t want your bird feeders or pigeons to become a source of transmission for this virus, so clean them regularly and you should be good to go,” he said.
The BC SPCA wants you to remove your bird feeders, for now
In December 2022, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) urged residents to put down their bird feeders, warning that they were putting birds — including great horned owls, bald eagles, great blue herons, ducks and geese, and Crows – at risk of contracting the virus.
The BC SPCA called on people to remove seeds and grease bird feeders, in order to discourage birds from congregating and potentially spreading disease.
The organization stated that these feeders create “abnormal gatherings” of birds that can pass the virus to each other, or contract it from the droppings of other birds on the ground below the feeder while scavenging for fallen seeds.
– With files from Simon Little, Global News