West Nile Virus and Your Dog

With all the flooding in large parts of the United States, mosquitoes are inevitable.  Unfortunately, many of them carry West Nile Virus.  You may be wondering how this disease will affect your dog.

West Nile Virus is a type of encephalitis.  It is primarily carried in birds.  The only way a mosquito transmits West Nile Virus is by biting a bird or animal that is infected.  It then bites an uninfected bird or animal and transmits the disease to them.

What exactly does the disease do?  In humans, approximately 80% show no symptoms.  Their immune symptoms deal with the problem and they do not get sick.  Officials believe that the same thing happens in animals.

However, for the 20% of humans or animals that get sick, West Nile Virus can be devastating.  The great majority of those 20% suffer only mild effects. Mild cases present like the common flu, with fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph nodes and a rash on the chest, stomach and back. Vague symptoms usually endure for only a few days and are not fatal.

More severe human cases, which strike a mere 1 in 150 infected but may well prove fatal, are indicated by high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis. These more severe symptoms, if they do not prove fatal, may last several weeks, and neurological damage is often permanent.

Fortunately, dogs seem to be more resistant to West Nile Virus than people, horses, or other animals.  Signs of a WNV infection in your dog may include poor coordination, depression, decreased appetite, difficulty walking, tremors, abnormal head posture, circling, and convulsions. Such symptoms may be indicative of a number of disorders, but all are serious and any dog exhibiting neurological abnormalities should be promptly examined by a veterinarian.  Dogs rarely see the more severe effects.  When a dog does get sick, supportive care is given to treat the symptoms and keep the dog hydrated.  Almost all dogs recover with no ill effects.

The best way to protect your dog from even the chance of getting this potentially deadly disease is to help him avoid mosquitoes.  Unfortunately, with floods, it is hard to drain all standing water and the puddles become mosquito factories.  However, to the extent that you can, drain all standing water.  If you have a birdbath, put a mosquito dunk in it to kill the mosquito larvae.  Don’t worry about harming anything else, such as your birds, as the mosquito dunk just kills mosquito larvae and is safe for birds and mammals that might get a drink there.

Keep your dog in at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.  Make sure that all the screens on your windows and door are in good working order with no holes that would allow mosquitoes to enter.  Do not spray your dogs with DEET, since they may lick themselves and ingest it, but most flea and tick sprays kill mosquitoes, too.  You can spray your dog with them before letting him outside.

West Nile Virus is serious, but fortunately few dogs get it.  Taking these precautions will help make sure your pet remains safe.