The West Nile virus hits record highs. Is your pet in danger?

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West Nile virus is in the news once again. A recent West Nile virus update by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that 47 states have reported infections in people, birds and mosquitoes.

dogs and west nile virus

Tank is at Furry Friendzy in Dallas, TX. Dallas is the so-called epicenter of the West Nile outbreak.

The report continues: “The 1,118 cases reported thus far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the third week in August since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.”  According to the LA Times, Dallas, TX is currently the epicenter of the outbreak and has begun aerial spraying to kill mosquitoes, which can transmit the virus.

But can all this hurt our pets?

West Nile virus in dogs and cats

While pets can contract West Nile virus (WNV), the CDC states that only a small number of dogs and cats with WNV have been reported. The symptoms are generally confined to a light fever and lethargy. (Learn more about WNV in dogs and cats.)

There is no WNV vaccine for dogs and cats. But here are some tips from the CDC to decrease the chance anyone in your family will contract West Nile:

    • Stay inside (and keep your pets with you) around dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are often most active.
    • Install window and door screens to prevent mosquitoes access to your home. Repair any holes in screens.
    • Eliminate standing water around your yard where mosquitoes breed.
    • Do not use human insect repellent on your pets. Pets’ grooming habits make ingestion probable and the repellant could be toxic. Talk to your vet about what insect repellants for pets might be available.

West Nile virus and horses

According to the CDC, horses are more susceptible to illness from West Nile virus and, though most horses recover from the virus, it can be deadly in some cases. The virus invades horses’ central nervous systems and may cause inflammation of the brain. (Read the CDC’s fact sheet on horses and WNV.)

Symptoms of WNV in horses may include a general loss of appetite and depression. Pennsylvania’s West Nile Virus Control Program also notes the following as possible symptoms of WNV infection in horses:

  • Fever
  • Weakness or paralysis of hind limbs
  • Impaired vision
  • General weakness
  • Head pressing
  • Aimless wandering
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Inability to swallow
  • Walking in circles
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Coma

Fortunately, there is a West Nile virus vaccine for horses, so talk to your vet about getting your horse immunized. In addition you should try the following tips from

  • Keep your horse stabled around dawn and dusk.
  • Use fly sheets, masks and leg wraps as well as equine-approved mosquito repellants on your horses.
  • Avoid lighting incandescent lamps inside the stall area at night because they attract mosquitoes. Burning an incandescent lamp away from the stalls may help draw mosquitoes away.
  • Place fans in stalls. Mosquitoes are somewhat repelled by air movement.

Mosquitoes pick up the WNV virus from diseased birds. If you find a dead bird on your property, call your local or state health department. (Read more about WNV and infected birds.)

Remember, mosquitoes transmit WNV. Pets cannot spread the virus to humans and it is unlikely that they can spread it to each other, so that’s one less thing for you to worry about. Learn more about the virus in humans.

Tell us: Are you concerned about getting West Nile virus?