With geese and other wild birds returning to the region every day, New Brunswick dog and cat owners should be aware of the risk of avian influenza, says the registrar of the New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association.
Dr. Nicole Jewett, a Fredericton-area vet, was commenting after the recent death of a dog in Ontario that had chewed on an infected wild goose.
“It’s not something we should panic over, but it’s something we should be aware of and cautious about,” she said.
“Certainly, any dead birds, you should keep your animals away from them.”
There have been about 80 cases of avian flu in New Brunswick — all in birds, both wild and commercially raised.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is monitoring outbreaks in commercial flocks, Jewett said. That’s where the greatest losses have been.
Its website shows an estimated 7.5 million birds in flocks affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza as of April 19.
So far in New Brunswick, commercial losses have been fairly low, Jewett noted. The food inspection agency reports two affected flocks with a total of fewer than 100 birds.
People who keep chickens should keep their birds away from wild birds, said Jewett.
Plus, they should quarantine any new chickens they get for 30 days, she said, and avoid tracking manure from one farm to another on dirty boots.
The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative is monitoring cases in wild birds. Its website shows confirmed and suspected cases in geese, gulls, gannets, eagles, owls, hawks, crows and other species.
Bird flu mainly spreads through waterfowl, but all types of birds can carry it, said Jewett. Transmission is generally through the bodily fluids of infected birds. Bird feces can pose a risk, too, in large quantities.
The likelihood of a dog or cat getting bird flu is low, she said, “but it’s there.”
Symptoms of avian flu in dogs and cats can include fever, low energy, redness around the eyes, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, tremors, seizures and death, said Jewett.
Besides birds, cases have also been found across the country in foxes, seals, dolphins, black bears, minks, raccoons and skunks, he said.
The risk of pets catching it from wild animals is low because transmission requires sustained direct contact.
“The biggest thing would be to not feed your pets — dogs or cats — any raw meat from game birds or poultry, keeping cats indoors if possible, and dogs on a leash to protect them from accessing a potentially infected carcass.”
At a dog park in Fredericton on Tuesday, Elizabeth Oley said she hadn’t heard about the dog death in Ontario and wasn’t aware that bird flu could be a risk for Georgie, a two-year-old Morkie — a cross between a Maltese and a Yorkie.
Despite Yorkshire terriers being historically bred for chasing rats, he hasn’t tried to go after rodents or birds, she said, but she makes it a habit to try to avoid dead birds anyway, knowing they pose a risk of disease.
Oley wondered, though, whether avian influenza was something Georgie could catch from other dogs at the dog park or from her adopted cat, who tends to sneak outside from time to time to hunt birds and mice.
The risk of a dog or cat getting sick from another pet in the house or at the dog park is quite low, said Jewett, because the virus doesn’t transfer easily between mammals.
If your pet is infected, however, bird flu can look like a lot of other common ailments.
She recommends going to a vet for an assessment if anything is off.
“Knowing that it happened in Ontario, that is really close,” said Pierina Rivas Robbiano, who was at the park with Rascal, an 11-month-old shepherd mix.
It’s very sad and definitely a concern, she said.
Knowing about it won’t really change any of her habits, though. She doesn’t let Rascal chew anything outside and, generally, her only contact with the birds is chasing them until they fly away.