Could your dog or cat get Ebola? Vet: ‘There really isn’t a ton of information available’

Officials in Spain recently euthanized a dog for being exposed to Ebola, and the dog of a Texas nurse who became infected with Ebola is currently in quarantine.

“When it comes to Ebola and how this infectious disease interacts with our pets, there really isn’t a ton of information available,” said Dr. Jennifer Welser, chief medical officer of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, which offers specialty and emergency veterinary medicine.

“However, we’ve done our best to put together a list of the important things we do currently know,” Welser said.

Scientists and veterinarians with the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other partners are working together to develop guidance for American pet owners.

Zoonotic diseases

Diseases that can pass between humans and animals are referred to as zoonotic diseases. This is important because 62% of American households have at least one pet, according to a 2012 Humane Society survey. Because of this, veterinarians play a vital role in recognizing and preventing the spread of disease.

Ebola is zoonotic, but the extent to which it actually affects animals is not well known. According to the CDC, scientists believe that the first patient became infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys), which is called a “spillover” event.

Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected persons. In the current West African epidemic, animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing Ebola transmission.

No pets sick with Ebola

As for dogs and cats becoming infected with Ebola, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola, even though they may develop antibodies from exposure to the disease. Certainly a greater understanding of the effects of Ebola on dogs and cats is needed.

According to the CDC, the risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low. Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.

Monkeys as pets

Beyond the more common household pets, some people do keep monkeys as pets. According to the CDC, monkeys are at risk for Ebola. Symptoms of Ebola infection in monkeys include fever, decreased appetite and sudden death.

Monkeys should not be allowed to have contact with anyone who may have Ebola. Healthy monkeys already living in the United States and without exposure to a person infected with Ebola are not at risk for spreading Ebola.

Evaluate risk of exposure

If there is a pet in the home of an Ebola patient, the CDC recommends that veterinarians, in collaboration with public health officials, evaluate the pet’s risk of exposure. Appropriate measures, such as closely monitoring the exposed pet while taking necessary precautions, should be put in place.

“Besides being doctors to animals, veterinarians play a key role in public health and disease prevention,” Welser said. “Veterinarians throughout the United States and around the world work together with human health officials to keep the public safe.”

BluePearl locations in 14 states

BluePearl Veterinary Partners’ hospitals offer specialty and emergency veterinary medicine. BluePearl is owned by employee veterinarians and other veterinary professionals.

It operates locations in 14 states in the Northeast, South, Midwest and Pacific Northwest. BluePearl is headquartered in Tampa, Fla.