Avian influenza (bird flu): how to spot and report the disease

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of avian influenza.

Avian influenza and pets

Avian influenza viruses remain predominantly a pathogen that affects birds, with just a small number of cases of mammals being infected worldwide. Evidence of mammal-to-mammal transmission remains very limited. However, avian influenza viruses have been known to sometimes infect mammals that eat or come into close contact with infected birds or poultry.

The risk to pets (and owners) is very small and no pet cats or dogs have been found with avian influenza in the UK. If you follow this guidance, the risk to pets will be further minimised:

  • avoid contact between your pet and wild birds. This includes:
    • preventing your pet from touching sick or dead birds or their faeces or feathers, or pet feed and water bowls that wild birds could have access to
    • in the event of an outbreak of bird flu, pet owners in the immediate area may be asked to walk their dogs on a lead and keep their cats indoors. This would be in the interests of your pet’s health and is a precautionary measure only
  • if your pet has been exposed to sick or dead wild birds/poultry, you should monitor your pet's health for signs of possible infection
  • if your pet is showing signs of illness following such exposure and you are concerned about the health of your pet in any way, please seek advice from your vet
  • symptoms of a pet infected with avian influenza may include a high temperature, breathing difficulties, fatigue, or incoordination

Prevent your pets from eating, chewing on or playing with dead or sick birds

There is a small risk to cats or dogs if they catch wild birds infected with bird flu.

When walking your dog, keep them under effective control, so they stay away from wild birds. This is particularly important in areas where bird flu has been found in wild birds or in poultry. Look out for warning posters or other signs in these areas.

Do not enter premises, such as farms, where bird flu has been confirmed in poultry, other captive birds or kept mammals without permission from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Signs will tell you where these restrictions are in force.

Protecting poultry and other captive birds (including pets)

Whilst certain bird species appear to be particularly susceptible to avian influenza viruses, including migratory water birds and domestic poultry, other birds can also be infected with the virus. Follow these simple steps to minimise the risk of your pet bird becoming infected in the event of a bird flu outbreak:

  • do not handle sick or dead wild birds
  • avoid contact between your pet birds and wild birds, including indirect contact such as bringing contamination into your home (e.g. wild bird droppings) via dirty clothes and shoes
  • if you own other pets, you should keep them out of areas where you keep your birds. If other pets have been outside, they may have been in contact with infected wild birds or contaminated areas. For example, they may have bird droppings or feathers on their paws or fur
  • always clean up after dealing with your birds, and always wash your hands before and after
  • ensure that any new pet bird comes from a reputable source and appears healthy
  • consult your vet if you have any concerns

Pet food

You should not feed your pet non-commercial raw poultry meat, game bird, wildfowl or other wild bird meat.

Commercial pet food is formulated for your specific type of pet and is the most appropriate diet. Feeding raw meat to pets can have potentially serious animal and public health risks.

Some types of pet food, including pet chews or treats, are made of raw meat and other unprocessed animal products. It may not always be obvious that products contain raw meat.

Read guidance on handling raw pet food and preventing infection.

Speak to your vet for advice on meeting your pet’s dietary needs.

If your pet is sick, tell your vet if it has been in contact with wild birds or eaten raw meat or treats. 

Protecting working dogs

If your dogs work on shoots, they could come into contact with infected wild birds (including released game birds) or a contaminated area. This may put them at risk.

If you have any concerns, contact your vet for advice.

What happens if your vet suspects bird flu

Contact your vet if you have concerns about the health and welfare of your pet.

If your vet suspects your pet may have been infected with a bird flu virus, they will need to report this to the APHA immediately. If your vet (or a testing laboratory) finds evidence of a bird flu virus or antibodies to a bird flu virus in samples taken from your pet, they will also need to report this to APHA immediately. 

Please be assured that APHA will not take your pet cat or dog away, but will give you advice on how to keep them and yourself safe if there is any suspicion of bird flu. Again, no pet cats or dogs have been found with bird flu in the UK.  

You can find out about the laboratory testing and reporting process for vets.

Latest situation in the UK

Find out about the latest bird flu situation in the UK, including confirmed infections in poultry and other captive birds, and findings in wild birds and mammals.


Email: Animal.Health@gov.scot (however, only report any dead wild bird findings via 03459 33 55 77)

Animal Health and Welfare 
Scottish Government
Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
Saughton House

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