Ebola Virus & Dogs: Where Do We Stand?
The recent euthanasia of a dog owned by a Spanish nursing assistant infected with Ebola virus has raised much concern about the canine role in Ebola virus transmission and the risks dogs may pose to humans. As is common with emerging diseases, there are many gaps in our knowledge—and these gaps can create fear.
The following key points should be understood:
1. There is limited concern about dogs playing a role in natural transmission of Ebola virus in areas where the virus is endemic.
2. The likelihood of a dog being exposed to Ebola virus outside of endemic regions in Africa is very unlikely; this would require contact with bodily secretions of a human with symptoms of Ebola virus infection.
3. There is evidence that dogs can become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence that they develop disease.1
a. This information comes from a study of dogs in a community where an Ebola virus outbreak was underway; 27% of healthy dogs had serum antibodies against the virus, but none had detectable virus in circulation. Evidence of exposure was not surprising, as some dogs scavenged the bodies of animals that had potentially died of Ebola virus infection and had direct contact with humans with active disease.
b. This situation is profoundly different than that of a household pet with transient exposure to a human that has been exposed or has early infection.
4. Irrespective of whether dogs can be exposed to the virus, there is currently no evidence that infected dogs shed the virus.
5. In the unlikely event of a pet dog outside of West Africa is exposed to a human with Ebola virus infection, veterinary and public health personnel can investigate the type of contacts between the dog and human (eg, when contact occurred with respect to the presence of symptoms, types and duration of contact) and determine whether exposure to the virus may have occurred.
6. Coordinated efforts are underway to develop guidance for management of dogs exposed to individuals with Ebola virus infection.
The lack of information about Ebola virus in dogs makes development of evidence-based practices difficult. Yet, given the available information about Ebola virus in dogs and the broader understanding of Ebola virus and containment practices, reasonable recommendations can be developed for the very unlikely event that more pet dogs become exposed.
Concerns about dogs and Ebola virus cannot be dismissed, and consideration of the role of pets in transmission of this virus is consistent with efforts to promote One Health. At the same time, the risks must be kept in perspective—and reason must outweigh paranoia—to optimize human and animal health and welfare.
J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, is veterinary internist and microbiologist, chief of infection control at University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College Health Sciences Centre, and Canada Research Chair in zoonotic diseases. As editor in chief of Clinician’s Brief, Dr. Weese provides quintessential expertise on infectious and zoonotic diseases (particularly of companion animals), infection control, and antimicrobial therapy.
Photo above: Image courtesy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention