Welfare Weekend: West Nile Virus Information and Natural Prevention for Pets ©

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a warning to pet parents about the West Nile Virus, on the heels of a similar warning for humans. Record-breaking cases in the US and Canada have prompted the warning.

Like humans, pets may contract the West Nile Virus from a mosquito bite. Ticks are currently being studied as carriers, and may be infectious (at least to birds). Animals that eat live food, like hunting cats, may contract the virus through their prey.  We’ve provided species-specific details for you below.  If you suspect your pet has contracted the West Nile Virus, please see your veterinarian.

CDC Pet alert issued for West Nile VirusThe West Nile Virus in Dogs and Cats

Reported instances of the West Nile Virus in dogs and cats are low. However, since pets often exhibit mild symptoms that are nonspecific, it’s highly likely  there are many more cases than records show.

Symptoms may include decreased appetite, lethargy or slight fever, but often no symptoms are present. There is no cure or vaccine for the West Nile Virus but your cat or dog will almost certainly recover on their own. There may be an increased risk to animals with a compromised immune system due to age or preexisting conditions.

Both dogs and cats have relatively low levels of the virus in their bloodstream, so the risk of them passing the disease on to humans, animals or even mosquitoes, is thought to be low. Since the West Nile Virus hasn’t been extensively studied in pets, we do suggest you take precautions. To date, the virus hasn’t been found in dog or cat saliva.

Insect repellents for pets are available and your vet should have recommendations. DEET-based repellents are toxic to pets and should never be used, nor should your pet be allowed to lick you when you’re wearing it.

The West Nile Virus in Horses

The virus poses a more serious threat to horses than it does to dogs and cats, but most do recover from infection. However, horse deaths have been reported. A West Nile Virus vaccine has been developed for horses.

West Nile viral infection crosses the blood-brain barrier to infect the brain, where it can then cause brain inflammation (encephalitis) and interfere with central nervous system function. Symptoms of the West Nile Virus in horses are usually present within two weeks of infection. Symptoms may include decreased appetite, lethargy, hyper-excitability, fever and sweating, impaired vision, grinding teeth, muscle tremors or weakness (ataxia), stiff neck, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and paralysis.

There is no documentation to support horse-human or horse-horse transmission of the West Nile Virus. Mosquitoes feeding on an infected horse while it is infectious may then pass the virus to humans, but further study is required on this theory as well.

The West Nile Virus in Pet Birds

This virus originates with birds and does cause death, but recovery is possible. Over a hundred species of birds are known to have been infected and there is a risk to captive pet birds.

WNV crosses the blood-brain barrier in birds, causing brain inflammation (encephalitis) and central nervous system dysfunction. Symptoms may not be present before collapse, or may include fever, stiff neck, disorientation, confusion, loss of consciousness, muscle tremors or weakness (ataxia), convulsions, and paralysis.

There is no evidence of direct bird-human West Nile Virus transmission.

Preventing the West Nile Virus in Pets

  • Keep pets inside at peek mosquito times (evening, night, after rain, etc)
  • Wrap screen around the outside of cages
  • Avoid contained bodies of water in which water birds are frequent visitors
  • Eliminate standing water and dump, clean and replace pasture water daily
  • Aerate ornamental ponds and/or stock them with fish
  • Use sonic devices to repel mosquitos outdoors

Improving the Odds of Survival and Alleviating SymptomsCan dogs, cats, birds, and horses get the West Nile Virus?

  • Feed a highly nutritious, balanced diet
  • Include anti-viral foods in the diet
  • Include foods in the diet that stimulate the immune system
  • Naturally-derived nutrients that are proven to help fight viral infections include Vitamins A, C and E, Selenium and Zinc.  Look for foods high in antioxidants and carotene to boost immunity.

Fresh, or high quality dehydrated foods and herbs that are noted for their anti-viral properties include:

Citrus fruit
Reishie or Shitake mushooms
Brussels sprouts
Yogurt with active cultures
Raw honey
Dandelion leaves
Lemon Balm
Seaweed & Algae
Calcium Montmorillonite Clay
Unrefined, virgin coconut oil
Green Tea
Aloe Vera

You can easily add these ingredients to our natural pet food and treat recipes. Consult your veterinarian before making major changes in the diet or using herbs & essential oils.

Heavily-diluted essential oils may be used on dogs, horses and most livestock to repel insects through aromatherapy or in a natural shampoo. Naturally repel mosquitoes with Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Citronella (Cymbopogon nardas), and Lemon (Citrus limon). Do not use on or around birds and cats.

We purchase most of our herbs and essential oils from Starwest Botanicals.

Natural Pet Care Blog CommentsHave your pets contracted the West Nile Virus?  Are you worried they might?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Austgen et al. Experimental Infection of Cats and Dogs with West Nile Virus. Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal. 2004.
Wissman, Margaret A. D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P. West Nile Virus: What You Must Know For Your Bird’s Sake. 2006.
Canadian Centre for Food-borne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Disease. 2012.
US Center for Disease Control West Nile Virus. 2012.
National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). 2012.
Kellon, Eleanor M. VMD. Horse Journal Guide to Equine Supplements and Neutraceuticals. 2008.
Bell, Kristen Leigh. Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with AnimalsHolistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols for pet muscle sprains, strains and spasms. 2002.
Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional HealingPrescription for Nutritional Healing: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements. 2010.
Engel, Cindy. Wild Health: Lessons in Natural Wellness from the Animal KingdomWild Health: Lessons in Natural Wellness from the Animal Kingdom. 2003.
Levy, Juliette. The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable 1991.
Tilford, Gregory. Wulff, Mary. Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s LifeHerbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet's Life. 2009.


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14 Responses to “Welfare Weekend: West Nile Virus Information and Natural Prevention for Pets ©”

  1. Geoffe says:

    I have to deal with mosquitoes all year here but the WNV isn’t prevalent in our area, thankfully.

  2. Gloria says:

    Incredible article! Thanks for your hard work. Mosquitoes can transmit more than we’re told about I’m afraid.

  3. Gina A. says:

    I hat it when they spray but I hate mosquitoes more. We keep fish in our pond for them but when they spray I worry about the fish being killed off too. I guess if wild fish are safe my goldfish will survive too.

  4. Avery says:

    Thanks for calming my nerves!
    I heard about the warning & fered the worst.

  5. Yuri says:

    I believe it’s only going to get worse every Summer until they find a vaccine for everyone and then it will be something else!

  6. Shawna says:

    I agree — very thorough post. I didn’t buy into the antiviral thing until I tried it but now I can see it makes a big difference. We don’t get sick nearly as often as we did before.

  7. Dianna says:

    I suspected my dog had the West Nile virus last year but the symptoms were vague and past quickly. I was worried that the family would catch it and I’m relieved to hear that’s not going to happen. Thanks!!

  8. Kelli says:

    This post is very well researched and written. I’ve only seen brief warnings about the West Nile virus infecting pets and they only frightened me more.

  9. Peter Ray says:

    I appreciate the tips and suggestions because I have a puppy AND an old dog.

  10. Reggie says:

    It’s funny how the cdc issues warnings and then says there’s nothing to worry about rofl

  11. Belinda Lawson says:

    I worry about our horses every day. I heard something like 60 % of horses that catch the west nile virus dies from it. I’m going to ask the vet about having them vaccinated.

  12. Shelly says:

    They’re spraying for mosquitoes here because of the virus. I’m more afraid of the spray than I am the virus but I guess they have to do something.

  13. Trianda blue says:

    Oh how I DESPISE mosquitoes!!! I think they spread a lot more than they tell us about too. I wish they could infect mosquitoes with something that would wipe them all out.

  14. Steve says:

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on warnings and recalls. This is a really exceptional article too. The details on this site are also useful to holistic professionals. I’ve picked up several of the books listed in your references.

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