Can Dogs Get the West Nile Virus?

beagle scratching west nile virusFrom California to New York, cases of the mosquito-borne and potentially fatal West Nile virus are on the rise. Record-high cases are being reported in Houston, New York and other cities across the country.

In Orange County, Calif., 94 residents have become infected and three have died so far this year, according to Orange County Public Health Services. The city of Santa Ana, where 65 dead birds were found to be infected, is planning to spray four areas with pesticides. (Robert Cummings, laboratory director of the Orange County Vector Control District, told KPCC that while no pesticides are entirely risk free, the one to be sprayed in Santa Ana contains an extremely low amount of toxins and is not “adverse to human health or to pets and other wildlife.”)

While most people infected with West Nile virus won’t even know it, 20 percent of them will experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches and nausea. Approximately 1 in 150 infected people suffer serious illnesses, including neurological problems and, potentially, coma and death.

Obviously West Nile virus affects people and birds — but what about dogs?

“Dogs and cats are susceptible to infection, but considerably more resistant to disease than horses, humans and some species of birds,” according to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine website.

Just as with people, very young and old dogs, as well as dogs with weakened immune systems, are the most susceptible to contracting West Nile virus.

“Signs of a possible infection include weakness, fever and muscle spasms, although blood tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis,” UC Davis notes. “Treatment is consistent with standard veterinary practices for viral infections, and recovery is likely. If you suspect that your animal may be infected, seek the advice of your regular veterinarian.”

Also, just as with people, dogs become infected via mosquito bites. According to UC Davis, while it’s possible, there have been no reported cases of dogs becoming ill after eating infected birds.

To prevent mosquito bites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following tips:

  • Use an insect repellent when you go outdoors (here’s a list of less toxic alternatives to DEET from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior). However, do not use repellents made for humans on your dog — especially those containing DEET — as they may be poisonous. Ask your vet to recommend a safe repellent.
  • Weather permitting, wear long sleeves, pants and socks outdoors.
  • Avoid going outside at sunrise and sunset, when mosquitoes are the most active.
  • Install or repair screens on your windows and doors, and make sure there are no gaps.
  • Regularly empty out standing water from pet water dishes, flowerpots, gutters, buckets, birdbaths, etc.

If you live in an area that’s being sprayed with pesticides, the Orange County Vector Control District recommends you do the following:

  • Cover pet food and water bowls, as well as fishponds. (It’s probably even a better idea to bring the bowls inside.)
  • During the spraying and for 30 minutes afterward, stay indoors with your pets. Keep your doors and windows closed, and turn off non-recirculating air conditioners.

Photo credit: Rlevse

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!