West Nile Virus in Dogs and Cats

Mosquitoes are more than an itchy, scratchy pain in the neck—they’re also dangerous to your health, and that of your pet. The blood-sucking pests can carry West Nile Virus (WNV), a potentially serious illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WNV is generally a seasonal epidemic. Common in the summer, it continues into the fall. Though it reaches its peak around Labor Day, higher temperatures this year may allow mosquitoes to linger—which means WNV could continue to be a danger through September and even October.

As of September 4, 2012, the CDC reports WNV infections in 48 states. A total of 1,993 cases occurred in people and included 87 deaths. This is by far the highest number of WNV cases ever reported to the CDC through the first week in September. Over 70 percent occurred in Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. Texas alone has reported nearly 45 percent of all cases.

Dogs and cats rarely contract WNV, though it is possible. According to the CDC website, a “relatively small number of WNV infected dogs and WNV infected cats have been reported to the CDC.” There are usually no symptoms of west nile virus in dogs. Infected cats may exhibit mild symptoms such as a low-grade fever or lethargy. In most cases, those infected–both humans and animals alike–recover on their own without medical intervention.

That said, there are steps you can take to protect your pets from mosquitos and the WNV. Consider the following precautions: 

  • Walk your dog during the warmer daytime hours. Avoid dawn and dusk, as that is when mosquitoes are most active.
  • If you allow your cat outdoors, only do so during the warmer daylight hours.
  • If you have bird baths, watering troughs, fountains or other standing water in your yard, empty or remove them—eliminating potential mosquito breeding sites.
  • Check your window screens and screen doors for holes. Repair or replace any that are torn.
  • Do NOT use DEET-based insect repellents on your pets. It is too likely that your pet will ingest the chemical when licking its fur. Instead, try treatments like K9 Advantix II or Vectra 3D that also repel mosquitos.
  • There is a WNV vaccination available for horses. Talk to your veterinarian for more information.

As always, if you notice your pet exhibiting symptoms of illness, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. While there is currently no specific treatment for WNV infection, the vet may provide supportive treatment suggestions to help you manage any symptoms until your pet fully recovers.

What steps do you take to prevent WNV in your pets? Share your tips with us in the comments!

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