Zika and Pets: Are Your Furry Family Members at Risk?

by Dr. Ian Kupkee

Some of my clients are human health care providers. They are knowledgeable,  dedicated, caring, professionals - and they are tired.

"I always thought I was a hard worker," an obstetrics nurse lamented to me last week.  "But since Zika popped up? The testing, the questions, the walk-ins, the non-stop calls and emails - I’ve never worked so hard in my life. People are really scared."

Indeed they are.  But when the calls and emails began coming into my office, I began to realize just how much fear was out there. So is the fear justified? Should pet owners be worried about Zika?

Most pet parents are aware that mosquitoes can transmit deadly heartworm disease to their pets. More still understand that certain pathogens can be passed from animals to humans.  So where does Zika fit in? Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions.

Is my pet in any danger from Zika?

It is important to note the research on Zika is ongoing.  The scientific community does not claim to know everything there is to know about this disease.  That said, both veterinary researchers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that illness caused by the Zika virus has not been seen in dogs or cats.  For this reason, Zika is not expected to become a problem within the pet population of the United States.

Even if my pet cannot become ill from Zika, can he still be a carrier for the disease?

Carriers, or more accurately "reservoir hosts" can carry a disease within their bodies without ever developing clinical signs.  These hosts will often carry the disease for long periods of time.  While they themselves do not fall ill, they are nonetheless capable of transmitting the illness to other organisms.  Our most current knowledge of Zika suggests that only humans and non-human primates are capable of carrying a high viral load of of the disease within their bloodstreams.  So even if your your pet is bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus, your pet’s body would not provide an environment which would allow the virus to survive.  The CDC has stated, "At this time, animals do not appear to be involved in the spread of Zika virus."

I have a champion show dog whom I’d like to breed. Should I be worried about birth defects in her puppies? Should I wait to breed her?

Very little official research has been done on this topic, but as of this writing, there are no known cases of Zika-linked microcephaly in baby animals.  This is yet another reason scientists are not convinced Zika poses a risk to our pets - the absence of clinical signs of the disease in puppies and kittens born in Zika zones suggests their mothers are not becoming infected. While more research is needed, it is not likely that pets born in a Zika zone will be born with Zika-related birth defects.

Should I get my pet tested, just to be on the safe side?

Because researchers do not believe that dogs and cats either transmit Zika or fall ill from it, no veterinary diagnostic labs offer Zika testing for pets at this time.  But make no mistake - the scientific community is watching Zika very carefully.  If the virus evolves, protocols may change, in which case, testing could theoretically become available for our pets.  At this point in time, however, officials are not recommending Zika testing for pets.

I’ve been using a DEET-based mosquito repellant for myself. Can I spray that on my pet as well?

Absolutely not! DEET toxicity is a common reason for trips to the pet emergency hospital. Dogs exposed to DEET can exhibit a range of clinical signs from corneal damage, to gastrointestinal upset, to seizures. Cats are at an even greater risk as their first instinct is groom the offending products from their bodies via licking. This results in twice the exposure to the toxin. If your pet has ingested or has been sprayed with DEET, call the Pet Poison Hotline or go straight to the nearest veterinary facility.

What about garlic tablets? Garlic is a natural mosquito repellant!

For dogs and cats, garlic, while natural, is also deadly.  Garlic, onions, and all other members of the allium family cause a dangerous blood disorder called Heinz body anemia when ingested by dogs and cats.  Pets with this condition often require blood transfusions. When left untreated, Heinz body anemia is fatal.

There is still much research to be done on Zika, and scientists are working round the clock to better understand and combat this disease. For more information on Zika and animals, visit the CDC’s website, and keep checking NBC 6 for any news or updates as they become available.


To visit the NBC6.com "All About Animals" section, click here.

Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee?

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee? Send him an email by clicking here.

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