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Can Dogs Get West Nile Virus?


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Good health is easy to take for granted and harder to hold onto the older you get. One thing that poses a serious risk to your health though, is viruses. There is one virus in particular which is relatively new and potentially fatal, the West Nile virus. It infects the brain and causes serious inflammation. Since the first U.S. case in 1999, a number of people have lost their lives. As it is potentially lethal, serious caution must be taken when handling those infected. But could your dog also get the West Nile virus?

Can Dogs Get West Nile Virus?


People may think because humans are usually the ones to contract the virus that dogs cannot get it, but they absolutely can! The virus is actually carried by mosquitos so both dogs and humans are at risk of being bitten.

Does My Dog Have West Nile Virus?

The good news is: the symptoms for the virus are extremely easy to pick up on. Has your dog developed an obvious tremor? Have rashes come up on the skin? Does your dog have symptoms of a fever? Has your dog suffered any sort of paralysis? All of these are well-established symptoms of the West Nile virus.

What exactly causes the virus though? Mosquitos usually pick up the virus from birds and after a few days of circling around their blood, it is ready to infect the mosquito’s next victim. But your dog can also contract the virus by eating dead infected birds and other rodents. The fact that the virus is transported by mosquitos, makes preventing the virus extremely challenging.

If you suspect your dog has the virus, how will your vet go about making a diagnosis? Your vet will undertake a physical examination, looking out for the symptoms mentioned above. They will then take a blood sample for analysis, which will confirm the presence of the virus. They will also want to talk through your dog’s recent history to try and identify where they may have contracted the virus.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s West Nile Virus?

Unfortunately, there is not yet an effective way to treat the West Nile virus. Instead, the course of action usually followed is to allow the virus to run its course. However, if the case is severe, your dog may need to be hospitalized. There they will receive supportive medical care to control any seizures and if your dog is unable to keep down liquids and nutrients, they may need to be intravenously administered. But often, dogs’ immune systems can keep the virus at bay enough that they do not need medical intervention.

Recovering from the West Nile virus may take a serious amount of time. It depends entirely on the individual case, but if you have a puppy or your dog is older, then their immune system may be weaker and they may require even more time to fight off the infection. So full recovery can take many months and even up to a year in some cases.

There is also the unlikely possibility that your dog does not recover at all and that the infection proves fatal. However, most relatively young and healthy dogs will successfully fight off the virus.

How Is West Nile Virus Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

In a number of ways, the virus manifests itself in many of the same ways in dogs as it does in humans and other animals. Some of the more noticeable similarities are as follows:

  • In both dogs and humans, the virus may cause individuals to have sudden seizures.

  • In both, the virus may cause partial or total paralysis.

  • Dogs and humans may develop a large, visible rash on parts of the body.

  • Both dogs and humans may develop a tremor as a result of the virus.

  • Both may also display fever-like symptoms.

How Is West Nile Virus Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

While you can see there are a number of similarities between the symptoms in dogs and humans, there are also a number of noticeable differences worth highlighting too. Some of those differences are as follows:

  • Horses suffering with the virus often wander aimlessly, this is seen less in dogs and humans.

  • It is also common for horses to head press when infected with the west nile virus, this is also seen far less in dogs and humans.

  • Humans with the virus report headaches and aching of the entire body, it is less clear whether dogs and other animals suffer with this.

Case Study

Adam was a 5-year-old Great Dane when he developed a tremor. A couple of weeks after that, he started to have seizures. The owners took Adam to the vet, where after a blood test, the West Nile virus was diagnosed. Adam was fatigued, lost weight, and spent much of his time sleeping for the next 7 months. Occasionally, he needed to be hospitalized to help him keep fluids down and nutrients in, but eventually he slowly recovered. It took Adam about 8 months to totally fight off the infection. But this case does illustrate that dogs usually can conquer  the infection on their own, but that significant patience will often be needed.

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