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Your Happy Pet: Dogs and cats are safe from Ebola

Original Publication Date: November 3, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Americans love their pets and understandably wonder if they are in danger of contracting Ebola.

It is important to note that transmission of Ebola in humans has only been documented through direct contact with a sick person's blood or body fluids or by using contaminated needles and syringes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no evidence that Ebola can be transmitted through air, in water, or by insects. Only a limited number of mammals including humans, chimpanzees and apes can become infected and spread the Ebola virus.

A few animals like the fruit bat of West Africa can harbor Ebola without getting sick. Infected fruit bats probably play a major role in the spread of Ebola in areas where the virus is high. They leave contaminated droppings which can infect other wild animals including gorillas, apes, monkeys and small African antelopes called forest duikers. Other wild animals contract Ebola by scavenging on the dead flesh of infected animals and humans. Human bush meat-hunters can contract the virus by killing and eating sick animals in areas where Ebola is present.

The story is different for dogs and cats. The only scientific study concerning dogs was conducted by a French group following the 2001-2002 Ebola epidemic in Gabon. Blood from 439 dogs was screened with tests specific for the Ebola virus. Of dogs from villages with infected animal carcasses and human cases of Ebola, 31.8 percent tested positive. Testing revealed that these animals developed antibodies to Ebola indicating some form of infection, but the dogs remained asymptomatic.

Furthermore, the researchers found no cases of the dogs passing Ebola on to other animals or humans. Similarly, the CDC states that there are no documented cases of dogs and cats suffering from or spreading Ebola to others in West Africa even in the areas where humans have been hard hit by the virus and are dying in large numbers.

When Teresa Romero Ramos, a nursing aide in Spain was diagnosed with Ebola, her dog, Excalibur, was quickly euthanized. Most experts agree this was an unfortunate reaction by the Spanish health officials. It would have been more humane and potentially more productive to quarantine and monitor the dog. Important information could have been gained if the dog tested positive for the Ebola virus.

In contrast, Bentley, the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel of Nina Pham, the infected Dallas nurse, was quarantined for the 21-day incubation period of Ebola. Bentley was tested several times but was not positive for the virus and was released to his elated owner.

Ebola can be found in many kinds of animals, but the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the American Veterinary Medical Association believe pets in the United States are not at significant risk of contracting the disease. Pet owners can relax and breathe easy.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at