Can Pets Get Ebola - And Can They Give It to You?

Ebola Virus in Pets

Story at-a-glance -

  • In response to the U.S. Ebola scare last year, especially as it pertained to the handling of sick people’s pets, in November the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued guidelines for managing pets belonging to people exposed to the virus
  • The tragic case of the dog in Spain who was euthanized when his guardian was diagnosed with Ebola, coupled with the high profile U.S. case of nurse Nina Pham and her dog, prompted the AVMA to take the lead in developing recommendations for public health officials, pet owners and their families
  • In short, the AVMA guidelines advise anyone who knows they’ve been exposed to Ebola to either give up their pet for 21 days, or at a minimum, turn over care of the animal to another member of the household

By Dr. Becker

Fortunately, the threat of a widespread Ebola epidemic in the U.S. seems to be behind us, at least for now. But in the days and weeks following the first U.S. death from the virus, I’m sure many of you who are pet guardians followed the story of infected nurse Nina Pham and her darling dog, Bentley. And there was also the heartbreaking case of Spanish nursing assistant Maria Teresa Romero Ramos, whose senior dog Excalibur was removed from Ramos’ husband’s care and euthanized soon after she was diagnosed with the virus.

I’m also sure that for many of us, the prospect of infecting our dog with Ebola, or having him put to death because we are infected, is as scary as the virus itself. The case of the dog in Spain is especially troubling because he wasn’t even tested for the virus. He was immediately killed as a decidedly unscientific and unnecessary “preventative measure.”

Fortunately, Pham’s dog Bentley did not suffer the same fate. He was quarantined for 21 days, and after testing negative for the virus twice, Bently was reunited with Pham, who had recently been released from the hospital.

November 2014 AVMA Guidelines for Handling Pets of Ebola-Exposed Individuals

In November 2014, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released guidelines on the proper way to handle pets living with people who have been exposed to Ebola.

The killing of Excalibur, and the scare with Bentley in Dallas prompted the move by the AVMA in concert with the USDA, the CDC, and other health experts. Developing the guidelines was a long process due to the complex nature of Ebola, as well as lack of scientific data on Ebola and companion animals.

According to the AVMA with regard to the Ebola virus in pets:

At this time, the CDC states that there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread the virus to people or animals. Even in areas of Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with the virus.

The chances of a dog being exposed to Ebola virus in the U.S. are very low. Exposure requires close contact with bodily fluids of a person with symptoms of Ebola infection. This is why it is important for individuals symptomatic with the disease to avoid contact with animals and others to the extent possible. We do not yet know whether or not a pet’s body or fur can transmit Ebola to people or other animals.1

The AVMA recommends that anyone who knows they’ve been exposed to Ebola either give up their pet for 21 days, or turn over care of the animal to another member of the household. In guidelines released in early November, the AVMA states:

Should a person become ill with Ebola, dogs, cats, and possibly other pets who came into contact with the patient must be assessed for exposure and may be placed in mandatory quarantine for at least 21 days following their last known exposure to the person with Ebola.

This situation can be avoided if the pet is moved out of the residence of the person being monitored for Ebola before any symptoms start in the person.2

Additional AVMA Recommendations

  • Officials should follow a process similar to what is recommended for humans, which is to conduct a risk assessment for the animal, and also collect travel and contact information.
  • If a pet must be quarantined, officials should use full personal protective gear during the pet’s transport. The transport vehicle should be cleaned and disinfected after use.
  • Those caring for a quarantined animal should wear personal protective equipment, including a respirator, and monitor themselves for fever twice a day. registered members can obtain the full guidelines by visiting Interim Guidance for Public Health Officials on Pets of Ebola Virus Disease Contacts and Interim Guidance for Dog or Cat Quarantine After Exposure to a Human with Confirmed Ebola Virus Disease.

For more information on Ebola as it pertains to pets, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) article Ebola and Dogs offers information and links to current scientific evidence on the subject.