LEBANON, Ore. -- One week, Rhonda Rebmann's niece had the flu.
The next, her 10-year-old tabby cat started showing respiratory symptoms. Buddy Lou died four days after she brought the cat to the family's veterinarian, the first feline H1N1 death in the United States.
"It's crazy," said Rhonda Rebmann. "I would never have thought, never have thought a cat would have gotten this from a human."
A rare case
Veterinarians at the Lebanon Animal Clinic knew they were not dealing with a normal respiratory infection as soon as Buddy Lou arrived.
Cats with a regular respiratory infection sneeze and cough, but Buddy Lou's breathing was heavily labored.
Chest X-rays also painted a different picture.
Steve Hiette (above), a veteriarian who treated Buddy Lou, said that a cat with standard pnemonia would have fluid built up in the bottom of the lungs. In this tabby's lungs, however, fluid was accumulating higher up.
"So when we saw this," Hiett said, "we said, 'Oh, it's a different type of pneumonia." Indeed, Hiett said the cat did not respond to normal antibiotics or oxygen treatment.
Chest X-rays taken the night before Buddy Lou died show the fluid build-up had increased.
"It's gotten significantly worse," Hiett said. "The whole bottom field is filling with fluid to the point where it's obscuring the heart."
Emilio DeBess, State Public Health Veterinarian, said that a human passing a disease to a cat is an interesting scientific development. He also said it's rare. DeBess said that cat owners should not panic about giving their pets the flu.
However, pet owners should take care handling their pets if they are sick.
DeBess recommends washing your hands before touching your pet or their food and water. Also, avoid touching your pet's nose, mouth and eyes.
What about other pets?
Four ferrets in Oregon have become sick with H1N1 and recovered. A ferret in Nebraska died.
Birds and pigs can also get H1N1.
So far, dogs have not contracted H1N1. State health experts said they are not sure if dogs are immune or have just not contracted this strain of flu.
Buddy Lou lived with several other cats, who started showing symptoms of respiratory illness. One in particular had symptoms and X-rays just like Buddy Lou's. Although Hiett said the staff became very worried at that point, all of the other animals recovered.
Preliminary tests showed those cats did not have H1N1. Hiett is waiting on blood test results to see if the animals cleared the virus before the first test.