The ongoing epidemic of Ebola in West Africa has raised several questions about how the disease affects the animal population, and in particular, the risk to household pets. This is important because 62 percent of American households have at least one pet according to a 2012 Humane Society survey.
While the available information suggests the virus may be found in several kinds of animals, the Center of Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the American Veterinary Medical Association do not believe that pets are at significant risk for Ebola in the United States.
Here are some FAQs regarding Ebola and animals.
How are animals involved in Ebola outbreaks? Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola has not yet been confirmed, the way in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, scientists believe the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys). This is called a spillover event. Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected persons. In some previous Ebola outbreaks, primates also were affected by Ebola and multiple spillover events occurred when people touched or ate infected primates. In the current West African epidemic, animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing Ebola transmission.
How does Ebola spread? When infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through:
- Direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola;
- Objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus.
Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food.
Can dogs get infected or sick with Ebola? At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola. There is limited evidence that dogs become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence they develop disease.
Are dogs and cats in the United States at risk of becoming sick with Ebola? The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low. Therefore, the risk to pets also is very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.
Can a person get Ebola from their dog or cat? At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals. The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a symptomatic person sick with Ebola.
Can I get my dog or cat tested for Ebola? There would not be any reason to test a dog or cat for Ebola if there was no exposure to a person infected with Ebola. Currently, routine testing for Ebola is not available for pets.