The veterinarian community 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, along with similar weather patterns to last year.
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.
The West Nile Virus in Dogs and Cats
Reported instances of the West Nile Virus in dogs and cats are on the low side. 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 mosquitoes outdoors
Improving the Odds of Survival and Alleviating Symptoms
- 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:
Reishie or Shitake mushooms
Yogurt with active cultures
Seaweed & Algae
Calcium Montmorillonite Clay
Unrefined, virgin coconut oil
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. It’s important to use high quality, fresh herbs and essential oils for the full effect. We rely on Starwest Botanicals for most of our herbs and essential oils.
Have 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 Animals. 2002.
Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2010.
Engel, Cindy. Wild 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 Life. 2009.
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