As the first cases of non-travel-related Zika infection are now confirmed within the United States, pet parents are becoming increasingly concerned over the risks that their pets mace face in addition to themselves.
This begs the question – can cats (or dogs, livestock, and other animals) catch or transmit the Zika virus?
First, what exactly is Zika? Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward explains:
Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda’s Zika Forest. If you’re wondering, “Zika” means “overgrown” and the forest is home to The Uganda Virus Research Institute of Entebbe. Scientists were conducting research on yellow fever in primates when they stumbled upon this stubborn mosquito-bite fever. They largely discounted Zika virus as a serious threat because the majority of victims (80%) didn’t develop significant illness.
Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of a mosquito; Aedes africanus, Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopticus have been identified as carriers, and other species may also transmit the disease. Aegypti and Albopticus are found throughout the southeastern U.S. and as far north as Connecticut.
Zika can also be transmitted through sex, and from a pregnant woman to her fetus. That’s when the virus gets dangerous.
Within the past five years, cases of Zika began appearing in Europe and America, but until recently those cases were all associated with travel into affected areas, where the patient became infected and brought the virus back. Just this past July, the first cases of locally-transmitted Zika were reported when 14 people in South Florida were confirmed to be infected.
What are the signs and symptoms of Zika virus?
Signs of symptoms of Zika infection include fever, joint pain, muscle aches, rash, headaches, and eye redness or inflammation. A vast majority of those infected with the virus never even realize they’ve contracted it and recover from their flu-like symptoms within a week, without treatment. Hospitalization and death are very, very rare.
The biggest concern with Zika virus, however, is that it appears to cause a serious and life-threatening birth defect known as microcephaly (small head). If a pregnant female contracts Zika virus from an infected mosquito bite, she can pass the virus on to her fetus during pregnancy and the fetal brain could become underdeveloped, resulting in death or severe neurological deformation.
Scientists are also worried because there’s so much we don’t know about Zika virus and the potential harm it may cause to humans or animals. Inadequate research into how the virus affects animals leaves more questions than answers.
Can cats catch or transmit Zika virus?
It is currently unknown whether or not cats or dogs can catch or transmit the Zika virus. There is currently no evidence to suggest they can, but there is also inadequate evidence to suggest they cannot. There is, however, evidence to suggest that primates and rodents can carry and transmit the virus.
How do I protect my pets from Zika virus?
Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward explains that mosquito control is the best defense against Zika at this time.
Unfortunately for us, Aedes mosquitoes are incredibly tough critters. They are aggressive daytime feeders and prefer people over most animals and thrive indoors or outside. The eggs of Aedes can survive dry, cold conditions for over a year and hatch into larvae as soon as they contact water. Remove any standing water from flower pots, bowls or buckets to help eliminate mosquito breeding areas.
Even if you live in cold regions, the larvae of these mosquitoes can remain dormant for months during cool weather and emerge as soon as temperatures increase. When water and warmth are present, the entire Aedes mosquito life cycle – egg to adult – can occur in as few as 10 days. Told you they were tough.
Protecting your pets against mosquitoes and mosquito bites is an important preventative measure against heartworm infection and should already be a part of a pet parent’s regular routine.
For more information, visit Dr. Ernie Ward’s PetPlan blog where he’ll be updating with new information on Zika and pets as it is discovered.