Bird flu kills a dozen cats who drank contaminated milk from infected cows

A mysterious disease began spreading among cows at a north Texas dairy farm, and it didn't take long for the cats living on the farm to start acting strangely. Officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed that a dozen of the farm's cats were casualties of a highly contagious strain of bird flu, which they contracted from drinking raw, unpasteurized milk from the property's cows. The cows had contracted the virus from drinking contaminated water on the farm.

This instance is part of an ongoing outbreak of bird flu, which has been spreading amongst birds and mammals in North America since late 2021. The virus has jumped from birds to foxes, raccoons, possums, skunks, seals, leopards, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and now, surprisingly, cats.

On March 25th, the US Department of Agriculture reported the first confirmed case of bird flu among cows. Several dairy farms in Kansas and Texas were affected, and when those cows were transported to Michigan, Idaho, and Ohio, they took the virus with them. Although the virus has been confirmed among cows and cats, there have only been a little over a handful of cases where humans have been infected. Additionally, there is only one confirmed case of mammal-to-human transmission, with all other cases occurring between birds and humans.

According to the CDC, the risk to the public is low, and there is no need to be concerned about drinking pasteurized dairy milk. The Food and Drug Administration is testing milk products extensively, and as of yet, has found no signs of the virus.

Unfortunately, the cats on the Texas farm died from the virus before farmers were aware of the pathogen they were dealing with. The first cat to show signs of sickness was just a day behind the first cow. When the cows on the farm started to get sick, they produced syrupy milk, which may have been less noticeable in the early days of illness. Researchers at Iowa State University found that the cow and cat samples contained signs of influenza A virus (IAV) with a high similarity, suggesting a shared origin for the strain.

These findings suggest that bird flu can jump from mammal to mammal, which may make containing the contagion more difficult, as experts are still unsure how the virus is transmitted amongst cows.

For now, it is safest to drink pasteurized milk, no matter your species.

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