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With bird flu found in dairy cows, experts warn raw milk poses danger to pets

<b>Animal health experts are warning against feeding pets raw milk with bird flu now found in dairy cows </b>(Photo credit: Joey Payne)
Joey Payne
Animal health experts are warning against feeding pets raw milk with bird flu now found in dairy cows.

People with cats shouldn’t feed them raw milk, some animal health experts warn.

There is an increasing concern about how a bird flu outbreak in dairy cows could impact pets, especially cats.

It is illegal to sell raw milk to consumers in just a handful of states including Indiana and Kentucky. But with bird flu impacting dairy cows across nine states – including Michigan and Ohio– experts are now warning that raw milk shouldn’t be fed to pets either.

Cats consuming raw milk have become infected and in some cases died at a site in Texas.

“Some folks do buy raw milk, pet food, to feed their pets. And that's an area of concern,” said Denise Derrer-Spears, spokesperson for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health. “ Because the concern has been that on some of these farms, the dairies where it's been found, the cats have died.”

Early May, the Indiana State Chemist released guidance warning consumers about feeding raw milk to pets and underlining the recent feline fatalities linked to milk consumption.

“Cats consuming HPAI (bird flu)-infected milk have been infected and have died in Ohio, New Mexico, and Texas,” the advisory read. “More than half of the cats died, exhibiting no apparent signs of injury. Autopsies revealed severe systemic virus infection, affecting organs such as the brain and eyes.”

In addition to poultry, dairy cows and cats, bird flu has been found in a wide range of wild animals including foxes, seals, and polar bears, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientists have warned that each time the virus jumps to a new animal host it poses an increased risk of jumping to humans. Dairy cows have been of particular concern because of their close proximity to people like farmworkers.

“So if you're a cat owner, be careful or even pets in general, if it's affecting other species, it could be a problem there as well, because you don't have that safety step of pasteurization,” Derrer-Spears said.

Testing from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that while commercial milk has shown remnants of the bird flu virus, the pasteurization process kills the virus and makes it safe for humans to drink.

At this time, the risk to the general public remains low, according to health officials.

Side Effects Public Media is a health reporting collaboration based at WFYI in Indianapolis. We partner with NPR stations across the Midwest and surrounding areas — including KBIA and KCUR in Missouri, Iowa Public Radio, Ideastream in Ohio and WFPL in Kentucky.

Copyright 2024 Side Effects Public Media

Benjamin Thorp
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