Q: I read that dogs can get Ebola and that’s why the dogs belonging to the victims have been euthanized. Please tell me it’s not true!
Rest assured, there’s been no evidence to date to suggest that dogs (or cats) can suffer from Ebola. Neither can they transmit the disease, as far as we can tell. Unlike swine flu or avian influenza, this is not a disease that’s considered a problem in domesticated animals like dogs or cats or food animals.
But there’s a catch:
There is documented evidence demonstrating convincingly that dogs can become infected by the virus. In a 2006 study undertaken in Gabon, stray dogs eating carcasses of Ebola victims tested positively for the presence of antibodies to the virus. Though no actual virus was found in these dogs, the presence of antibodies is considered evidence of Ebola infection.
Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) argues against the killing of dogs whose owners test positive. While monitoring is required for exposed dogs here in the United States, their apparent inability to transmit the disease makes them highly unlikely suspects.
This reasoned stance explains why the Dallas nurse’s dog is still safe in seclusion. Despite rumors to the contrary, Bentley has not been euthanized. But not every country agrees, which is why the dog belonging to the infected Spanish healthcare worker was, in fact, euthanized. Though he didn’t test positive for Ebola (there is no good test), Excalibur was killed because there was no way to prove he wasn’t infected.
So what’s my take?
On the one hand, there’s a legitimate need to disseminate information on this virus. Nevertheless, I believe the news media has sensationalized the topic of pets as a possible source of Ebola infection. Though there’s no denying the reality that the Ebola virus is as close as two flights and two car trips from almost anywhere on earth, responsible pet owners need to be careful not to give in to the temptation to over-hype the issue. Doing so might just feed any future frenzy to deny infected humans and exposed animals safe and humane treatment.
Still have questions? The American Veterinary Medical Association offers a list of FAQs on the subject of Ebola as it affects pet owners at AVMA.org. The CDC also offers plenty of information on Ebola, including a page for pet owners at CDC.gov.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.