Are you worried that your dog might contract the Ebola Virus?
“I’m very concerned,” Edgar E. Cayce says. “I’ve been hearing about Ebola a lot in the press, and I’m worried that my dogs could be euthanized because of the public panic that’s currently being spread around by the media. I have three dogs, and I’d hate it if they were suddenly taken from me because of this perceived threat.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of research online,” an anxious mother confided in me the other day. “I don’t want anything to happen to the family dog. My children would be devastated.”
If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably heard about the Ebola Crisis, with recent outbreaks in Africa, Spain and the United States. Rather than calming fears, the media has been spreading panic about an alarming idea – that animals can contract and spread the virus, and that your furry friends might be next.
This concern first came to light when the story of Excalibur first hit the news. Excalibur, the dog of Spanish Nurse María Teresa Romero Ramos, was euthanized by the Spanish government after his owner was diagnosed with Ebola. Ramos was the first reported case of Ebola outside of Africa, and news of her disease sparked widespread panic and anxiety throughout the country. The Spanish government decided the best way to respond was by euthanizing the mixed-breed dog, which, unfortunately, they did despite protests from Spanish citizens.
On the other hand, American nurse Nina Pham’s dog was not euthanized, even though Pham came down with the virus after caring for the Liberian man held responsible for bringing the Ebola Crisis to the United States. Pham’s status was recently upgraded from fair to good, and her dog, Bentley, tested negative for the disease. The City of Dallas Animal Services cared for the King Cavalier for 21 days while he was kept under quarantine. He has been released from quarantine since then and is disease-free.
With everything you’re hearing on the media today, chances are you’re probably worrying whether or not your dog could be euthanized or quarantined if he contracts Ebola. But what are the chances of your dog getting Ebola in the first place? And how will it affect you and your family?
Before we answer that question, let’s first take a look at what Ebola is.
What is Ebola?
Ebola Virus Disease is a highly infectious disease that is caused by ebolavirus. It is generally fatal when contracted by humans and other primates. Signs and symptoms usually start with high fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches, and typically start between two days and three weeks after contracting the virus. Later symptoms of the virus include vomiting, diarrhea, rashes and decreased liver and kidney function. Internal and external bleeding can also occur. Death, if it occurs, is typically six to sixteen days after symptoms appear.
How is Ebola spread?
Ebola is a zoonotic disease, which means that it can be spread from animal to animal, and also from animal to human. The CDC states that scientists believe that the first human patients become infected during animal contact, likely with a fruit bat or primate such as an ape or monkey.
Humans typically contract the disease through bodily fluids such as urine, feces, saliva, vomit, and blood. Animals can also contract the virus this way, as well as from eating the meat from an infected animal. Unfortunately, your dog is no exception to this.
The truth is, your dog CAN get Ebola… but that isn’t necessarily cause for alarm.
“Why?” you might wonder. Shouldn’t I be dragging my dog off to the vet to get tested right now?
Well… first of all, routine testing for Ebola isn’t currently available for pets. It’s understandable that you might want to rule out the possibility of your dog being infected, but unless there’s real concern that your dog was actually exposed to the virus it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get your veterinarian to test him.
But secondly, though dogs can get Ebola, scientists have discovered that they are asymptomatic – meaning that even if your dog is harboring the virus, he won’t be affected.
Jeff Werber, D.V.M., renowned American veterinarian and veterinary medical journalist, has been working hard on calming fears about the Ebola Crisis, writing articles and doing interviews on the subject. “Yes, the Ebola virus can spread, and has been found in dogs,” he says in an interview with Inside Edition regarding the virus, “but to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control, infected dogs remain asymptomatic; they may be able to harbor the virus, but are not affected by it.” He also states in an article on his website that dogs can clear the virus without any treatment, so there’s no need to worry that your furry friend will be walking around with Ebola in his system for the rest of his life, even if he does contract it.
So, to summarize, dogs are unaffected by Ebola – your dog might catch it, but it won’t harm or kill him.
I’m glad to hear my dog is safe from the Ebola Crisis, but what about my family and friends? Can they get the virus from my dog?
Even though the Ebola is a zoonotic disease, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get it from your dog. The CDC states on their website that despite scientists concluding that humans must have contracted the disease from animals, the way the virus first appears in humans during an outbreak is still unknown, and that in the current West African epidemic animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing Ebola transmissions.
The truth is, Ebola has been found in a variety of animals, including pigs, antelopes, rodents, birds, and more. It’s thought that cats are immune from the disease, as the virus has not been found in any wild felines in Africa (which is great news for cat lovers!). Out of all these animals, the only two that have been known for spreading the disease to humans are fruit bats and primates.
It’s also worth mentioning that both of the dogs whose owners were diagnosed with Ebola tested negative for the virus, despite the fact that they were in close proximity with their owners. This suggests that it might not be as easy for dogs to contract the disease as it is for humans.
"It seems unfair," Romero wrote in an open letter published to her Facebook timeline, referring to her dog Excalibur’s death. "If you are really worried about this problem, I think you can find another type of alternative solution, such as putting the dog in quarantine and observation, as it has me. Or maybe you will have to sacrifice me, just in case. But of course, with a dog, it's easier, it doesn't matter as much."
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions if you genuinely believe your dog has been exposed.
While it is highly unlikely that your dog will contract Ebola, if your dog does get the disease it is possible for him to spread it to other animals or humans. If you suspect that your dog has been in contact with someone who has been infected with Ebola, you should immediately get him evaluated by your veterinarian, who will work with your local public health officials to determine the best course of action for your pet. They may or may not recommend that your dog be quarantined depending on the situation. Either way, you should be careful not to come into direct contact with your dog’s bodily fluids, including urine or saliva, as this is how the disease is transmitted.
“I think it’s very smart to quarantine the animal until we know more,” Dr. Jeff Werber said during his interview with Inside Edition, when asked about the risk of animals transmitting Ebola, “but I think to destroy a dog when so far there’s been no proof that this dog even can be infective to another person… it’s all, right now it’s theory.”
So, should I be worried about my dog getting Ebola?
Unless you know your dog has been in direct contact with an Ebola patient, there’s really nothing to worry about. The CDC reports that there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals, even in Africa. They also state that The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a symptomatic person sick with Ebola.
In other words, dog owners, you can rest easy! Put your feet up, lay back, and cuddle on the couch with your furry friend. If you have a cat, you’re doubly lucky, as cats are thought to be completely immune to Ebola.
Of course, if you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s health, you should contact your local veterinarian. For specific questions related to Ebola, the CDC has released a Questions and Answers page on their website, which you can read here.
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