Dogs and Ebola Virus

Nina Pham with Bentley Courtesy of Pham family

As I write this, Teresa Romero Ramos, a nurse assistant in Spain, is battling for her life against Ebola virus disease. Despite local protests and objections voiced via a global social media campaign, a court order mandated that Teresa’s elderly, but overtly healthy dog named Excalibur be euthanized. His remains were “put into a sealed biosecurity device and transferred for incineration to an authorized disposal facility.”

And now, a nurse in Texas named Nina Pham has tested positive for the virus, the result of helping care for the first Ebola victim in the United States. Nina also has a dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Bentley who has been moved to an undisclosed location and is under the care of Dallas Animal Services. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins stated,

When I met with her parents, they said, “This dog is important to her, judge. Don’t let anything happen to the dog.” If that dog has to be The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, we’re going to take good care of that dog.

Here are two vastly different approaches to two similar situations. Which approach best serves public safety and peace of mind? I certainly don’t have a well-informed answer to this question. I’m not sure there is anyone who does.

What we know

I was able to come up with only one study pertaining to Ebola virus infections in dogs. Published in 2005 in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the authors examined 439 dogs, some of which were living in the midst of an Ebola outbreak in Gabon, a country on the west coast of Africa.

Blood samples from the dogs were evaluated for antibodies to Ebola virus. (Antibodies are the foot soldiers of the immune system that are manufactured in response to the presence of an infectious organism.) Of the dogs from villages with both infected animal carcasses and human cases of Ebola, 31.8% tested positive for antibodies to the virus. None of them showed any symptoms of disease.

This study clarifies that dogs can be infected with Ebola virus, and they experience no infection-associated symptoms.

What we don’t know

There remains a great deal to learn about canine Ebola virus infections. Given the evolution of Ebola and growing public awareness and concern, we are in critical need of answers to the following questions:

  • How do dogs become infected with Ebola virus?
  • Do infected dogs shed the virus in their bodily fluids? If so, which bodily fluids and for how long?
  • Is canine Ebola contagious to other animals, including humans?
  • Do dogs serve as fomites for Ebola? A fomite is defined as an object (animate or inanimate) that is capable of carrying and transferring an infectious organism from one individual to another. Classic examples of fomites include used tissues, drinking glasses, and articles of clothing. We know that the Ebola virus survives for days if not weeks after being shed into the environment.
  • How long do antibodies remain in a dog’s bloodstream following infection?
  • Why don’t infected dogs become sick? The answer to this might shed some light on ways to mitigate illness in people infected with Ebola.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently working with the American Veterinary Medical Association to provide information for veterinarians pertaining to pets and Ebola virus. The CDC has a new page on their website devoted to “Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets.” Have a look, but be forewarned- you may come away with more questions than answers.

What’s next?

I really don’t know how the concerns about pets and Ebola virus will play out. My hopes are that panic will not prevail and that research efforts to understand more about Ebola virus in pets will become an immediate priority.

Veterinarians, myself included, are pondering what we will do if asked to care for a pet that has been exposed to Ebola virus. Given how little evidence-based information is available, I think our skittishness is justified.

I will keep you posted on any new developments in our understanding of how Ebola virus impacts our pets. In the meantime, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for Teresa Romero Ramos, Nina Pham, and Bentley.

How do you feel about the recent decisions made concerning Excalibur and Bentley?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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17 Comments on “Dogs and Ebola Virus

  1. While my dogs are my life I would not expect another to risk their life to care for them if there is any chance they could pass on the Ebola virus. Given that we now have several cases of nurses getting the Ebola virus despite the steps taken to protect against it I can understand not wanting to extend this risk to caring for exposed pets if the risk is unknown.
    Before we judge the right or wrong of putting the animal down we have to ask if we ourselves would be willing to put ourselves in this position of risk.
    I can’t imagine how painful it would be for an owner faced with this its hard enough putting down a dog who can’t be helped when sick without having your possibly healthy pet put down but fellow humans have to come first.
    The spread of this virus I believe is going to get so much worse worldwide and I pray for those with family members affected or exposed.

  2. American public health comes first. We can’t control the world. If we have to close borders and euthanize pets we must do so to protect ourselves. Like on an airplane if the cabin loses pressure adults get their oxygen masks on first then help others. Common sense is becoming uncommon! Grant

  3. OK, so I read the article. Dogs in AFrica are not fed, they dine on dead wildlife and eat leftover parts from critters the humans have hunted. In an area where there’s Ebola, they might also lick up infected vomit.

    So, I don’t know, why do they still hunt monkeys? Dirt poor and hungry I guess. We’d go a long way to fixing these kinds of problems if everyone had enough to eat, including the dogs.

    And the take away lesson I got was that prevalence of Ebola antibodies in dogs just might give early warning in an area where no one is sick….yet.

    Then again a study I looked at showed that people infected with the Marburg virus in 1967 had some antibodies 20 years later.

    Cathy

  4. I agree with Watani. I am willing to bet $10 that dogs cannot spread ebola anymore than they can spread measles! (I would bet more if I were rich!) Don’t kill dogs due to panic! Especially, a healthy dog, enjoying his life!

  5. We don’t euthanize people with ebola. We should not euthanize dogs with it.

  6. Hi Michelle. Great idea you propose! It would be wonderful if cross-species transfusions were safe and effective. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

  7. ” Blood samples from the dogs were evaluated for antibodies to Ebola virus. (Antibodies are the foot soldiers of the immune system that are manufactured in response to the presence of an infectious organism.)”
    Why can’t those antibodies be collected and given to humans with Ebola? My understanding is that blood transfusions from dogs to humans are not possible, but can the antibodies, found in dogs, be safely implanted and transfused with human blood? Just curious. Seems to me if I were in the field of biochemistry and veterinary medicine I would be looking into this possibility. It makes sense to me that dogs give to humans so much, willingly, even sacrificially it would be poetic justice that the stigma surrounding dogs as lesser of creation would be the saving grace for Ebola in humans.

  8. Wow, thanks Dr Kay for addressing this issue, being willing to talk about this openly, and please keep us informed about what the US vet community is doing about this. I feel horrible pain and sadness for these two women denied access to their dog-family members. It seems the response in Spain was a knee-jerk-fear response. I hope that research and public education can help stop this disease called FEAR. I confess, I kiss my dog and my horse on the lips. Slobber happens. I will continue to live in encouragement about our fear. And will continue to kiss my dog and horse on the lips.

  9. I would also like all to note that inside the continent of Africa, outside of the 3 countries in the middle of the epidemic, public zoos are stepping up for primates that are being dumped in the streets. People know that primates are carries and can transmit Ebola to people. Even though the areas where they are dumping pet monkeys and other primate species are no where close to the hot zones, people who own primates as pets are acting irresponsibly yet again by leaving these animals who have been pets since childhood to survive on their own in busy cities. Several zoos are taking these animals and putting them in quarantine rather than euthanizing them unnecessarily. Wonder what their protocols are for quarantine? I suspect they must have something in place.

  10. Dr. Kay, thank you for bringing this information to light. In fact, USAMRIID, the military version of the CDC also has a few studies on Ebola in dogs, but again nothing more conclusive than what you have discussed. However, as testing on primates with Ebola and other Level 4 viruses regularly, with decades of research articles on these animals, it should be a source of information. When animal activists first learned of Excalibur’s plight and asked for help, we contacted USAMRIID to ask for information or protocols if such existed that might cause the authorities in Spain to spare this dog’s life. Weeks later, there are comments and discussion, still no protocol for quarantine, still no more answers. With Elisa testing available for the Ebola virus, as well as PCR technology, we can get conclusive answers as to whether Ebola virus has infected a dog on any given day. We know to be safe we must quarantine the dog for a specific period of time. And the small dog in Dallas owned by the health care worker infected with the Ebola virus has been transferred to the care of Dallas animal control authorities. We can only hope that the kind of precautions necessary to protect both animals at the facility and workers at the facility are been observed and exercised. We have asked our own public health department to issue protocols for our own shelter systems now rather than waiting to see if the need should arrive. Perhaps a smarter move is to call for a national protocol to be put in place for our animals. Clearly the CDC has their hands full, but I believe this need should be addressed.

  11. We also know that Ebola is transmitted by persons who are showing symptoms. So do dogs need to show symptoms to transmit the disease? as you mentioned, we do not know. So wouldn’t it make sense to study a dog and find out, rather than just to kill it? Like Hather said, it will determine how sick people, who CAN transmit the disease, react.

    I wrote about this last week on my blog, Rumpydog.com.

  12. There could be, if needed, a viruscide rinse to deal with the fomite problem – not necessarily chlorine!
    As for dogs’ ability to spread the disease? A great deal of research is needed. Dogs get viral diseases that we dont catch – and many humans’ viral diseases are not caught by dogs, nor spread by dogs. For example – measles is very contagious between humans – humans who have dogs freely circulating. There has never been any paranoia about dogs spreading that virus. Of course, most people are vaccinated against measles (or have had it) – but not all.As far as I know, there is no worry about the non-vaccinated catching measles from a dog.
    So let’s cool it re dogs & ebola. There will be a vaccine against Ebola eventually. Not to down play the tragedy for too many, mostly in Africa, but to compound that with canine murder is certainly no solution.

  13. Wow this whole issue hadn’t even occurred to us! We hadn’t heard about the Spanish nurse’s dog, that’s just awful. Thanks for keeping us updated on what’s going on, we’ll be waiting for more news and hoping for the best for Bentley.

  14. I agree with Pam & Hather. No dog owner wants to have his/her beloved family member destroyed because they “might” be a possible vector for ebola. I worry there might be a hysterical mass slaughter of dogs and cats, like there were with pigs (swine flu) and chikens (avian flu)

    I think Health officials would have been better served by studying Excalibur since he was one of the first well-cared for dog exposed to ebola – by that I mean he was fed a diet of dog food, unlike the dogs in West Africa which scavenge for their food, eating God knows what to survive.

    Thanks for being a voice of reason asking the important questions now.

  15. I am really glad that a respected vet as yourself has raised this issue. I would imagine many, many people are also thinking and worrying about this right now. I fear that reactive action could be taken as opposed to proactive action and as someone who loves her dogs to bits, I cannot bear the thought that my dogs could be taken from me and put to sleep – “just in case”.

    Clearly great thought needs to be put into this by people across the world. I, personally, would be devastated if dogs were destroyed without there being real proof of the necessity of doing so. It would be horrendous.

  16. How we treat the pets of Ebola afflicted people will influence when and how early people seek diagnosis and treatement of symptoms. Regardless of how we all may feel about the treatment and handling of these animals, if our goal is to encourage people to seek immediate medical care early on, they need to not be worrying about the implications for their beloved pets at home. If we know our loved ones will be safe and treated fairly we are MUCH more likely to seek early diagnosis of questionable symptoms.