As an outbreak of Ebola virus catches the world’s attention, U.S. and international veterinary organizations and public health officials are attempting to calm worried pet owners with reminders that cats, dogs and other domesticated animals have not been shown to transmit the disease.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) also questioned the decision by health authorities in Spain to euthanize a dog whose owner, a nurse, contracted Ebola.
“A precedent for automatic euthanasia is both unnecessary and a significant breach of animal welfare,” said Shane Ryan, BVSc, MVS, MRCVS, the chairman of WSAVA’s Animal Wellness and Welfare Committee.
Ryan called for the quarantine of animals exposed to Ebola. A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is in isolation in Texas after his owner, a Dallas nurse, was infected with Ebola and hospitalized.
“Dogs may harbor the virus, particularly in endemic areas where they may have access to infected animal carcasses,’’ Ryan said. But domestic pets, potentially exposed in developed countries, represent a very different scenario.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that in West Africa, where more than 4,000 people have died from Ebola, “there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals.”
“The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low,” the agency added. “Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association is working with federal agencies to spread the word about Ebola and pets.
“Although [Ebola] is a zoonotic disease, there has not been evidence of its transmission to humans from dogs,” the AVMA stated. “Indeed, it is not even known if dogs are capable of contracting and then transmitting the disease.”
Links have been established between Ebola and some African wildlife.
“Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest,” the World Health Organization stated.
The CDC acknowledged that researchers do not have a complete understanding of how Ebola is transmitted.
“We do not yet know whether or not a pet’s body, paws or fur can pick up and spread Ebola to people or other animals,” the agency reports. “It is important to keep people and animals away from blood or body fluids of a person with symptoms of Ebola infection.”