As animal lovers, I think all of us that read about Spanish Ebola patient Teresa Romero‘s dog “Excalibur” being euthanized as a precaution from exposure to Ebola were disheartened. In the veterinary community, our pets are our family members. This disease has caused a lot of fear. I know we were all relieved that they decided to quarantine the U.S. Ebola patient Nina Pham’s dog Bentley for monitoring instead of euthanizing him as a precaution, and were happy to hear he is now safe at home.
There is not a confirmed source for Ebola currently, but is thought to be found in fruit bat populations. Humans initially may contract the disease by coming into contact with an infected animal (bat or primate) or infected fruit or meat (bushmeat), and then human to human transmission occurs via bodily fluids or fomites with infected fluid. Those caring for Ebola patients or in close contact are at highest risk.
In the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing transmission. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the USDA, and the AVMA, pets are not considered to be at a significant risk for Ebola in the United States. This is probably because currently it is still considered low-risk for humans in the U.S. as well, so would be even lower risk for pets. But even in West Africa where Ebola is found, there are no current reports of dogs or cats actually becoming ill from Ebola. That being said, the above organizations are continuing to work to gather more information about Ebola and animals for veterinarians and the public.
There was a study written regarding the outbreak of Ebola in Gabon in 2001-2002. Over 400 dogs were screened for Ebola antibodies (many dogs were thought to have eaten infected dead animals because in this country dogs are scavengers), and approximately 25% of the dogs had detectable Ebola virus- IgG. This shows that these dogs were exposed to the virus. However, none of these dogs were symptomatic. Therein seems to lie the concern then about dogs harboring and transmitting the virus, even if they are asymptomatic. But, the dogs with positive antibodies against the virus tested negative for the disease. So the question is, when they are initially exposed, how long could they be shedding virus if at all? Currently only a few animal species (primates and humans) have demonstrated the ability to actually spread the Ebola virus.
As a vet tech, if you were to be encountered with the rare situation that an owner believed their dog to have Ebola, the best thing to do would be to notify the veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian should take a thorough history, acquire personal protective equipment, quarantine the dog, and contact the CDC and state veterinarian.
Please visit www.avma.org/ebola which includes information for veterinarians and a FAQ section for clients. There is also a link to the CDC page regarding Ebola and pets. You may also listen to this podcast by Dr. Ron DeHaven, the VP and CEO of the American Veterinary Medical Association regarding Ebola and Pets.