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It is a rare person who has not suffered the misery of chickenpox at some point in their life. However, most people are infected as children, and often don't remember how miserably ill they were.
Characteristic of chickenpox in people is the rash. Those ugly red blotches that are unbearably itchy, and break open into blisters and then scab over. Not a pretty sight.
Imagine then, your child has chickenpox and their best buddy is the dog. Can your canine give the child comfort, without risk of picking up the condition? After all, the last thing you want in addition to a sick child is a trip to the vet. Do dogs get chickenpox and could they pass it to you?
Can Dogs Get Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is what's called 'species specific'. This means it's easily passed person to person (via coughing, sneezing, or contact with burst blisters) but it doesn't travel from people to dogs (or vice versa).
It's not difficult to see why some owners might be concerned. It's not uncommon for dogs to develop rashes on their belly or skin, which can mimic the chickenpox rash. But this redness and soreness is a general symptom, rather than a diagnosis in its own right.
Chickenpox is caused by the Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) which can only infect people - meaning our dogs are not at risk.
Does My Dog Have Chickenpox?
You could be mistaken for being suspicious of chickenpox if your dog has an angry red rash on their belly. However, this is only a symptom and could be caused by any of a number of conditions such as:
Atopy: Allergies to pollens or other environmental allergens
Contact allergies: An allergic reaction to something the dog's skin comes into contact with
Bacterial skin infections: This is especially common in puppies or adult dogs who regularly get muddy
Autoimmune disease: In rare cases, the body attacks the 'glue' holding sheets of skin cells together, causing them to lift and separate, which results in blisters
Cancer: This form of cancer is very rare, and definitely at the bottom of the list of possibilities
How Do I Treat My Dog's Condition?
This depends on the underlying cause of the rash. Often this needs a vet to run diagnostic tests to check out allergies and other possibilities. In dogs that are not up to date with parasite control, the vet may suggest correcting this first, and then going ahead with tests if the symptoms don't settle. To give short term relief it may be appropriate to:
Bathe the dog: To wash allergens from the skin's surface and clean away mud or other bacteria-rich debris
Antihistamines: The effect of antihistamines in dogs can be disappointing, so don't get your hopes too high
Soothing ointment: A light application of barrier cream (make sure it is zinc-free) to localized areas of redness may help to soothe it
However, be prepared to visit the vet to get things properly under control.
How is Chickenpox Similar in Dogs and Humans?
The similarity is in the symptoms only, because dogs don't get chickenpox. Remember, that itchy red skin on your dog's belly isn't chickenpox, but is more likely to be an allergy, a bacterial infection, or the result of a parasitic infection.
How is Chickenpox Different in Dogs and Humans?
Chickenpox affects people only. The closest 'pox' infection in dogs is 'dog pox'. However, this isn't really a pox at all but caused by a herpes virus. Canine herpes virus (dog pox) mainly affects pregnant dogs and her pups. The virus causes blisters and inflammation of the vulva in the female. And in the pups it's responsible for 'fading puppy syndrome', where the pups are weak, don't suckle, and inevitably pass away. Dog pox is the biggest cause of death in pups less than three weeks of age. Some adult dogs get a variety of symptoms, of which one is a rash on the belly.
A Labrador Retriever develops raised, angry red lumps on her belly, and is constantly scratching. A few days later a child in the house falls ill with chickenpox. Fearing the dog infected the child, the owner takes the dog to the vet. However, the vet finds flea dirt in the coat, which is evidence of a flea infestation. The dog is given an oral tablet to eradicate the fleas and a one-off shot of steroids to reduce the inflammation while the fleas are dying off. That same evening the dog is much more comfortable, and a couple of days later the skin is back to normal. The child, however, is feeling poorly for two weeks, but happily makes a full recovery.