The impending court-ordered euthanasia of Excalibur-the dog owned by the Ebola infected nurse’s aide in Spain-is not only unnecessary from an animal and public health perspective, it is a dangerous precedent that could hamper efforts to identify and stop the spread of this devastating disease.
That said, dogs and other animals may become infected with Ebola, so public health plans should include provisions to identify and minimize spread amongst all potentially-infected species. According to Sharon Curtis Granskog, a spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, “I think it’s possible that dogs might spread Ebola, but it’s not likely in the U.S. or other places where dogs aren’t near corpses or eating infected animals.”
Scientists, “[d]uring the 2001–2002 outbreak in [Africa] observed that several dogs were highly exposed to Ebola virus by eating infected dead animals.” Ebola Virus Antibody Prevalence in Dogs and Human Risk, Loïs Allela et al, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 11, No. 3, March 2005.
The 31.8% seroprevalence in tested dogs, with no clinical signs of the disease, lead to the scientists’ conclusion that:
“A significant positive direct association existed between seroprevalence and the distances to the Ebola virus–epidemic area. This study suggests that dogs can be infected by Ebola virus and that the putative infection is asymptomatic.”
It is well known that wild animals, particularly bats and monkeys, may be involved in the spread of Ebola in Africa, as described by the CDC:
“Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.”
None of this information supports Spain’s decision to euthanize a clinically healthy pet, who has not been consuming infected carcasses. However the animal and public health community should convene to establish reasonable, protective measures to ensure that exposure to pets, particularly dogs, from infected, exposed, or potentially exposed people is minimized. Preventing such exposure will alleviate concerns that pets could spread the virus.
Animal health officials are well-equipped for such an endeavor. State and Federal emergency plans have been developed to deal with all natural or man-made disasters, including highly contagious disease outbreaks. As the former New Jersey State Veterinarian, I have overseen the quarantine of hundreds of thousands of animals, which were not euthanized, but instead were strictly monitored, tested, and released from quarantine only after all laboratory and clinical signs of infection no longer existed.
People love their pets. They may be less likely to seek medical treatment, especially when they first become sick, if they fear that the government will euthanize their pets.
Since early intervention is critical to decrease the spread of the virus from infected people, planning should encourage, not discourage early treatment.
As nations around the world are ramping up efforts to stop the spread of Ebola, those plans should include the appropriate measures to protect both people and their pets, not punish them.