Guidance on Ebola and pets offers background, protocols

AVMA working group developed documents for health officials
Published on December 17, 2014
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If or when another dog owner in the United States becomes ill with Ebola, health officials will be able to turn to recommendations on dog quarantine from an AVMA working group.

On Nov. 10, 2014, the AVMA Ebola Companion Animal Response Plan Working Group released interim guidance for quarantine of dogs and cats exposed to human patients with Ebola and for management of pets belonging to individuals who have had contact with infected patients (see JAVMA, Dec. 15, 2014). The documents provide background on the disease in animals as well as protocols for health officials.

The AVMA convened the working group in early October, after the euthanasia of a dog in Spain that belonged to a nurse who became ill with Ebola. A similar case emerged afterward in Dallas involving a dog owned by a nurse who tested positive for the virus. The dog in Dallas was quarantined for 21 days and released after testing negative for the virus. 

Nina Pham reunites with her dog, Bentley. Pham is a nurse who tested positive for Ebola virus after caring for a patient with Ebola in a Dallas hospital. Bentley had been quarantined for 21 days and tested negative for the virus. (Photos by Larry Wadsworth/Texas A&M University)

Dr. Kristi Henderson, interim director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division, said, “Our major role in this was providing the forum for the authorities and subject matter experts to all get together and talk.”

At press time, AVMA working groups also were developing protocols for personal protective equipment for handling animals potentially exposed to Ebola, for management of livestock potentially exposed to Ebola, and for management of zoo animals, captive wildlife, and exotic pets exposed to Ebola.

Guidance on pets

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture and multiple representatives from Texas were among the members of the working group on companion animals. Dr. Henderson said the working group developed skeleton versions of the guidance documents and then expanded the guidance to address questions. Finally, the documents went through CDC clearance. 

Dr. Deb Zoran (pictured) and Dr. Wesley Bissett of Texas A&M University were Bentley’s primary caretakers during the quarantine period.

The working group developed the documents for a target audience of local and state animal and public health officials to facilitate preparation of state response plans. According to a disclaimer, “Because limited scientific data on Ebola Virus Disease (Ebola) and companion animals are currently available, this guidance was developed in part by extrapolating scientific information from other species including humans and non-human primates (e.g., apes, monkeys).” 

The natural host of Ebola virus is thought to be fruit bats, according to the guidance. Only certain mammals such as humans, monkeys, and apes are known to become infected with Ebola. In Africa, Ebola virus or viral RNA has been detected in bats, humans, and nonhuman primates as well as forest duikers, a type of antelope. 

“At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals including in areas in Africa where Ebola is present,” according to the document. 

One study found antibodies to the virus in dogs during an outbreak in Africa (Emerg Infect Dis 2005;11:385-390). According to the researchers: “We observed that some dogs ate fresh remains of Ebola virus–infected dead animals brought back to the villages, and that others licked vomit from Ebola virus–infected patients.” According to the guidance, the evidence “suggests that dogs exposed to high quantities of virus can be infected, but the infection is likely transient and non-productive.” 

Certain exotic or unusual pets such as monkeys, apes, or pigs have a higher risk of being infected with and shedding Ebola virus. Although not noted in the guidance, pigs can be naturally infected with the Reston strain, but that strain has not been associated with disease in humans.

The guidance on dog and cat quarantine provides a protocol to assess whether quarantine is necessary for a pet that has had contact with a patient with Ebola and a protocol for quarantining a pet for 21 days, which is the incubation period in humans for Ebola. Testing for Ebola virus “will be limited to cases where testing is specifically warranted based on the type of exposure assessment in consultation with CDC on a case-by-case basis.” The document recommends euthanasia of an animal that tests positive for Ebola virus.

The guidance on pets belonging to people who have had contact with Ebola patients directs health officials to ask all contacts of Ebola patients about interactions with animals. Higher-risk Ebola contacts should avoid contact with mammals, and health officials should facilitate alternative housing arrangements for their pets. The guidance also offers recommendations in the event a higher-risk Ebola contact chooses to keep a pet at home and advice on pets for any Ebola contact who develops symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Henderson suggested that all Ebola contacts should arrange for someone else to care for their pets, if possible.  

Helpful resources 

The Ebola guidance might be helpful for future zoonotic diseases, Dr. Henderson said.

“All the authorities, state and federal, have come together, and they’ve worked on this, and I think that they’ve broken new ground on communications and planning,” Dr. Henderson said. “If there is a serious zoonotic disease of public health concern, this is a nice template that can be used.”

The Ebola guidance documents are available here. Dr. Henderson emphasized that if a practitioner is presented with an animal with potential exposure to Ebola, the practitioner should contact the authorities.

At the same website, AVMA members can access a checklist for practitioners, a client guide to Ebola exposure, resources for veterinarians, and a client handout on Ebola and pets. The site also contains other resources for veterinarians and the public.

Related JAVMA content:

Once ‘over there,’ Ebola now here (Dec. 1, 2014)

Guidance issued on Ebola exposure in pets (Dec. 15, 2014)