Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Animal Behavior

Can Dogs Get Infected by the Ebola Virus?

People are worrying about whether Ebola can be caught by their pets.

dog canine pet ebola virus human zoonotic infection transmission

The Ebola virus

It seems that every day the news is filled with information about the spread of Ebola, which is short for Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever. This is a deadly viral infection with a fatality rate that ranges from 50 to 90 percent. As those of you who regularly read my blog know, my major interests have to do with how dogs think and act as well as our human-canine bond rather than veterinary issues. However over the past several weeks my mailbox has filled up with messages from people are worried about whether or not their dogs are susceptible to the Ebola virus, and if so, whether they can spread it to others. Given the stress and confusion that was obvious in the emails that I received I thought that providing some information on this topic might be useful.

To start with some good news, the Ebola outbreak is confined to several African nations at the moment, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have concluded that the outbreak does not pose a significant risk to North America or Europe at the moment. The bad news is that the WHO predicts that before the Ebola outbreak is contained they expect that 20,000 people will have been infected and it will cost about $600 million to fight this outbreak. At this time there is no known cure, but there are some promising new treatments and vaccines that are being developed.

In humans who have been infected by Ebola the first symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. The first signs are usually headaches, muscle and joint pain, fever, sore throat, diarrhea, and vomiting. The disease then progresses, ultimately causing kidney failure and finally moves to the hemorrhagic stage which is where the victim begins to bleed internally and externally.

Several comprehensive studies have suggested that Ebola originated in central Africa, possibly in birds. The main reservoir of the virus is thought to be African fruit bats.

Now to get closer to the answer to our question we must ask which creatures are at risk for the Ebola infection? It is important to know that Ebola is a zoonotic disease, which means that it is not confined to one species but can be passed to different types of animals including humans. In fact it appears that primates, including gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, and of course humans, are the most adversely affected. Ebola infection has been found, in addition to African fruit bats, in antelopes, porcupines, rodents, pigs, goats, horses, and unfortunately also in dogs. To date there have been no documented infections in felines, meaning that our domestic cats are probably safe from it.

There are a number of ways in which Ebola is spread. A major study done by CDC following the 2001-2002 Ebola outbreak suggested that consumption of infected meat was one important means of transmission. Animals, including gorillas and other primates, kill and eat infected animals. There is a lucrative trade in "bush meat" in Africa, and this meat often comes from monkeys and other primates. It has been shown that people who consume bush meat can become infected. Humans spread the disease by direct contact with body fluids such as saliva, urine, vomit, feces, semen, and blood from infected people. In Africa dogs may be kept as pets and to assist in hunting, but they are not typically fed. That means that they scavenge and may eat infected meat or other forms of residue from infected people.

Although dogs are susceptible to Ebola, based on a 2005 study conducted in Gabon following an outbreak of the disease, the CDC concluded that "infected dogs are asymptomatic", meaning that they do not develop symptoms. During the early phase of their infection, however, they can spread the disease to humans and other animals through licking, biting, urine, and feces. However, the good news is that once the virus is cleared from the dog it is no longer contagious. Dogs do not die from Ebola infections.

Now to answer the question "Can my dog get Ebola?" The possibility certainly exists, but in North America, Europe, and other areas of the world which are not adjacent to the affected countries in central Africa, the chances of actually contracting the disease is extremely low. The virus is being spread mainly in central African countries including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone where the lifestyle is far different from that of found in the Americas and Europe. The good news is that there is no known source of Ebola infection outside of the affected areas in Africa. In the developed world, most countries have more stringent rules concerning food production and sanitation, which means that, in the same way that humans are protected from this deadly disease, so are our dogs.

I hope that this serves to lower the stress level of my readers and the many people who have written to me about their fears for their pets during this Ebola outbreak.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
More from Psychology Today
More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
More from Psychology Today