EEE…… West Nile Virus…..Can my dog or cat get it?

West Nile Virus; Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE); mosquito spraying in this town or that one……..You can’t watch, listen or read the news without hearing about these vector (mosquito or other insects) borne diseases.  When it comes to our dogs and cats do we need to worry? The term “worry” might be a bit strong but the word respectful may serve much better.

With reports of West Nile Virus (WNV) and EEE on the rise it is important to understand the truth about our pets and these diseases.  Can dogs and cats get WNV or EEE?  The answer technically is yes but reality is it is highly unlikely. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) although our pets can rarely contract these diseases, the signs of the illness are generally so mild that you may not even realize that your pet is infected.  A day or two of very mild gastrointestinal upset, lethargy and perhaps a loss of appetite for the term may be the only sign.  Transmission from cat or dog to human has not been reported as our pets do not serve as very effective reservoirs for these diseases.

Does that mean we should ignore the mosquitoes and everything else we hear with respect to EEE and WNV and our pets?  Definitely not.  Remember that any season that the mosquito population becomes more problematic than usual indicates an increase in the risk of heartworm disease.  All the news hype at least should serve as a reminder to verify that your dog and cat are currently taking heartworm preventative and has been recently tested.  In light of this as well as the fact that WNV and EEE can on rare occasion infect our pets we should review the basic principles of preventative medicine when it comes to our pets as well as other family members.  Since mosquito populations are more active within an hour or two of dawn and dusk it is important to avoid these times when exercising our pets outdoors.  If scheduling dictates that this is not practical make sure to use a species appropriate insecticide on your dog or cat if they must be outside.  Always ensure that any chemical you are using is labelled for the proper pet.  Many insecticides that are safe for dogs can inflict fatal toxicities on cats.  This cannot be overemphasized.  Secondly if you are taking your pet on vacation, camping or any other activity that is in a high risk area be mindful that ticks and fleas as well as mosquitoes enjoy a humid, cool to warm environment. EEE and WNV are not the only vector borne illnesses.  Those of us who reside in New England are well aware of the risk of Lyme disease we deal with on a daily basis.  So in addition to repellents to ward off mosquitoes, the appropriate flea and tick medication should also be on board.  Finally if your pet should appear ill in any way after a suspected exposure visit your local vet as soon as possible.  Though   unlikely that the illness is West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis or Lyme Disease, dealing with any condition early on in the course of the disease is safer and healthier than trying to “wait it out”.