Cat in Germany "very likely" infected,w/ H5N1, by eating birds
Pets at risk as bird flu kills cat
Pet cats may have to be kept indoors once bird flu arrives in Britain, scientists have said after the death of a cat in Germany from the disease.
The case - the first of a mammal dying from bird flu in Europe - means that cats may be able to pass the H5N1 virus on to humans and that the disease may spread more easily than thought.
Even more worrying is the possibility that cats could help the virus to adapt so that it spreads more easily between mammal species, making a human pandemic more likely.
Prof David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said that it was inevitable that bird flu would arrive in Britain.
He told the BBC: "We also have to anticipate that it will be here for five years-plus. We are talking about the possibility of this disease being endemic here in the UK."
The tom cat was found on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen, where the highly pathogenic form of H5N1 bird flu was detected in mid-February among wild swans, it emerged yesterday.
Prof Thomas Mettenleiter, president of the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Insel Reims, where the cat was examined, said: "It is very likely it contracted infection by feeding on sick birds or carcasses."
Dr Thijs Kuiken, the leading expert on the spread of bird flu to cats, said that keeping cats indoors should now be considered.
Dr Kuiken, a veterinary pathologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said that a range of species had now been infected in the field with the virus, including cats, dogs, pigs, leopards and tigers as well as humans. "This virus has a very broad host range," he said.