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Zika Virus and Dogs

Zika virus does not appear to cause illness in dogs.

Zika is a virus that is passed from human to human by the bite of infected mosquitoes of the Aedes family and through sexual activity. It was first discovered in the Zika forest of Uganda in the 1940s, and the first human diagnosis was made in 1952. The virus, which was previously mainly seen in Africa and Asia, began to be diagnosed in Brazil in May of 2015.

Why the Concern About Zika?

You may wonder what the concern over Zika virus is, given that it generally produces a mild, self-limiting illness in humans, and many people never even know they have had it.

The spike in Zika cases in Brazil coincided with an increase in cases of babies born with microcephaly (a severe birth defect resulting in small head and brain size). A similar spike was seen in Guillain-Barré syndrome cases in Brazil among people who also had Zika infections. This condition is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own nervous system cells, resulting in weakness and sometimes even paralysis. These two potential complications of Zika infection have created great concern about the virus and visiting or living in areas where it occurs.

Common Symptoms of Zika Infection in Humans

People who are infected with Zika virus may not have any signs of illness at all. They may also develop some or all of the following, flu-like symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint aches
  • Conjunctivitis (redness and swelling of the soft tissues within the eyes)

People who have been infected with Zika virus usually develop an immunity to it within two weeks, at which point they can no longer spread the virus to others or become infected by it again.

Can Your Dog Be Infected by or Spread Zika Virus?

There is no evidence to date that dogs (or other pets besides nonhuman primates) can become infected with Zika virus.

However, there has not been much specific research into whether Zika can infect, cause illness, or contribute to birth defects in dogs or be spread from dogs to humans. A study was done on several animal species (though dogs were not included) in Indonesia in the 1970s that determined that they could be infected but did not show any evidence of them developing actual illness from Zika virus.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to Zika virus and dogs, there simply hasn't been enough research done in order to know for sure. However, neither is there any evidence whatsoever that dogs are affected by the virus or contribute to its spread. Still, there are other illnesses that are spread among dogs through mosquito bites, so it is important to do what you can to decrease your dog's exposure to them. Some of the illnesses that are spread between dogs by mosquitoes include heartworm and West Nile virus.

Preventative Measures for Keeping Mosquitoes off Your Dog

Human insect repellants containing DEET should not be sprayed on dogs. The risk of ingestion and subsequent toxicity is too high because dogs are likely to lick at anything you put on them. Here are some things you can do to help protect your dog (and yourself) from mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

  • Use screens on your windows and doors, and use air conditioning instead of opening windows if at all possible.
  • Remove standing water on your property that could serve as a mosquito breeding ground.
  • If you have water in structures such as bird baths, wading pools, flower pots, or fire pits, empty them and replace the water at least once a week.
  • Clear out your roof gutters routinely so they don't clog up and hold water.
  • Some canine flea and tick preventatives also repel mosquitoes. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations for your geographical area and your individual dog.

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