The Zika virus is of grave concern to many people throughout the world, and the topic of mosquito-borne illnesses seems to be on everyone’s mind — pet owners included. With the number of cases of the infectious disease soaring, it’s only natural to wonder if our pets can contract Zika or transmit the virus to us.
Tracking Zika in Pets
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s no evidence at this time that dogs or cats can transmit or contract the Zika virus, and the disease doesn’t pose any known risks to animals in the United States.
Interestingly, however, the Zika virus was first discovered in an animal in the 1940s: in a monkey with a mild fever in the Zika forest of Uganda. Despite this early finding, the prevalence of Zika in apes and monkeys is still unknown; further testing and studies need to be conducted to learn more about the virus in other primates. There’s also limited evidence from one study conducted in Indonesia in the late 1970s that horses, cows, water buffalo, goats, ducks, and bats could become infected with Zika but did not get sick.
There’s no evidence that they develop disease or pose a risk for Zika virus transmission to humans.
Mosquitoes in Your Backyard
While your pet can’t give you Zika, did you know that pets can act as “taxis” for mosquitoes and mosquito larvae?
A dog or cat that’s accustomed to going from indoors to outdoors can physically carry these pesky insects and track them into your home, potentially causing problems for both you and your pet.
Pets are indeed susceptible to being bitten by mosquitoes and can contract heartworm disease from the insects — a very common and potentially fatal pet disease in the United States. Heartworm disease is found in dogs, cats, ferrets, and other wild animals like wolves, coyotes, and foxes. The worms can live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of animals, and can cause serious and fatal issues like heart failure, lung disease, and damage to other pet organs, notes the American Heartworm Society.
Dogs are particularly known to be natural hosts for heartworms.
Mosquitoes play a significant role in transmitting heartworms to pets: A mosquito can bite and take blood from an already infected animal and transmit baby worms into a non-infected pet, where the worms can live for years. Although heartworm disease is treatable in dogs, the treatment itself is very dangerous. There’s no treatment available for cats, so prevention is even more important for felines.
In addition to the precautions mentioned below, give your pets heartworm prevention medication to ensure any contact with a mosquito results in nothing more than an annoying bite.
Other notable mosquito-transmitted diseases in pets are West Nile virus, Western equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, dengue, and chikungunya (though it’s very rare in pets). Mosquitoes also transmit malaria, which affects humans but not dogs. There is a canine malaria, but it’s passed on from tick bites, not mosquitoes.
Protect Yourself and Your Pets From Mosquito Bites
Indoor pets are at risk because mosquitoes and larvae may be carried into homes by both people and other pets. In addition, improper screening, open doors, and windows are gateways for mosquitoes and other insects to enter your home.
To prevent mosquitoes from getting inside:
- Remove all stagnant water from your property.
- Install insect screens on your windows and doors.
- Use pet-safe insect repellents for your pets (which will be different from yours) and also use a repellent for yourself.