The news that Excalibur, the pet dog of Ebola-infected nurse Teresa Romero, was put down in Madrid, Spain, sparked an international outcry of protest — and worries about Ebola for pet owners here in the United States.
“The dog in Spain was put down due to fear and lack of education on the transmission of Ebola and infectious disease in dogs,” says Brandon Fouche, a pet expert at the Dog Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles.
The decision to euthanize the dog was “probably from an overabundance of caution,” says David C. Pigott, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB). That’s because the Ebola virus only infects a few types of animals that can pass on the disease, and this excludes animals commonly kept as pets, like cats and dogs.
“At this time, there is no evidence that dogs or cats can carry Ebola nor are they at risk for contracting Ebola in the United States,” says Angela Vassallo, PMH, MS, director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. “Even in Africa where Ebola is of great concern, there has been no evidence of dogs or cats transmitting Ebola,” she adds.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also stated that there were no cases of dogs or cats getting sick from Ebola, nor of these pets spreading Ebola to others. Both the CDC and the American Veterinarian Medical Association agree: U.S. pets are not at significant risk for Ebola. During the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the CDC confirms that new Ebola infections have been passed from person to person, not from animals to people.
Ebola In Wild Animals
In West Africa, fruit bats can carry the Ebola virus.”Only a couple of animals harbor Ebola without getting sick, and fruit bats are the big one,” says Pigott. Infected fruit bats leave contaminated droppings, which can infect wild monkeys and gorillas, as well as a small African antelope called the forest duiker. In turn, each of these animals can become sick and even die from Ebola. Sick animals can pass the virus on to bush-meat hunters in areas where Ebola is circulating.
“Eating bush meat is one of the factors that the Ebola infection has been attributed to,” Pigott explains.
Domestic pigs in the Philippines have become infected with Ebola in the past, according to a September 2014 review in the New England Journal of Medicine. While pigs have been infected in lab experiments, fortunately they do not pass the Ebola virus on to people.
Ebola In Pets
Julio Lopez, DVM, of Studio City Animal Hospital in Los Angeles, says that what little we know about Ebola and dogs comes from a single study. Published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2005, after an Ebola outbreak in Gabon, the study included data on blood tests of 439 dogs, some from Ebola-affected villages. “Dogs consuming infected meat developed antibodies against the Ebola virus, but did not show signs of sickness,” says Lopez. “None of the dogs in this study died from this disease.” Researchers found no cases of dogs passing on Ebola, neither to animals nor people.
In the current Ebola outbreak, Lopez is not aware of any reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola in areas in Africa where exposure is high.
“I do not believe that pets in the United States are at a significant risk,” he says. “Only one dog has been exposed, and it’s currently not showing any signs of sickness while in quarantine.”
It’s highly unlikely any dog in the United States could come in contact with Ebola-infected bodily fluids or meat. “Whether the virus can be picked up on the body, paws, or fur of our pets and then be transmitted to a person is not known, but again, it would require contact with bodily fluids from an infected person,” says Lopez.
Vassallo adds, “There is no evidence that a dog or cat could pick up Ebola from eating off the ground. For an animal to contract Ebola, they would have to consume blood or body fluids from someone who is sick with Ebola.”
UAB’s Pigott says this goes for other pets as well: “If you have a pet monkey and you don’t have Ebola, your pet monkey won’t get Ebola.”
If your dog has bloody diarrhea — one symptom of Ebola in humans — do not panic. “Hemorrhagic diarrhea is a fairly common occurrence in dogs, and a pet owner should not be alarmed that their dog has contracted Ebola,” explains Lopez. “It is most likely hemorrhagic gastroenteritis from another cause and warrants a visit to your veterinarian.” Currently, tests for Ebola are not routinely available for pets.
Tips For Preventing Illness In Your Pets
While there are no known cases of an infected pet transmitting Ebola to a person, pets can infect people with other more common zoonotic diseases. “Leptospirosis, hookworms and roundworms, and toxoplasmosis are a few common examples,” says Lopez.
Direct contact with infectious material is unavoidable for animals — especially for dogs and cats. Fouche says, “The way they investigate is through smelling, licking, eating, walking through, and rolling in smells that are foul [to people]. They can carry germs or organisms that can be passed on to their loved ones by contact, such as lying on or rubbing against furniture and objects in the home, through contact with people and other animals, such as hugs or licks.” Taking care of your animals’ hygiene is a must, he says, just as you do for yourself.
Remember that illness is a two-way street for pets and pet owners. “We can also transmit diseases to our pets. In 2009, a cat and some ferrets contracted H1N1, commonly called the swine flu, from their owners,” Lopez says.
Here’s how to avoid catching other diseases from your pets — and giving them your infections:
- Wash your hands after touching pets and handling their food.
- Dispose of pet feces appropriately.
- Keep current with your pets’ veterinary exams.
- Take preventive steps like having your pets vaccinated.
- Use flea and tick preventives.
- Keep your pets home and away from other animals (such as in doggie daycare, kennels, or dog parks) when they’re sick.
- When you’re sick with something like the flu, try to limit your exposure to your pets and follow the usual infection-control processes.