Ebola Guidelines for Pets

AVMA releases quarantine recommendations for animals.
By JoAnna Lou, November 2014
Nina Pham is reunited with Bentley after his quarantine.
When Bentley, the dog of Ebola patient and nurse Nina Pham, was released from quarantine a few weeks ago, it was a success for handling pets humanely during a crisis situation. Particularly in contrast to Spain's euthanasia of Excalibur, a dog exposed to the virus last month.

The two dogs, Bentley and Excalibur, led the American Veterinary Medical Association to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture on official guidelines for pets and Ebola. The outcome was released this week.

The recommendation is for pets to be moved out of the residence of anyone being monitored for the virus before symptoms start. However, if these preventative measures aren't taken, animals who have been in close contact with Ebola-infected people need to be quarantined for 21 days. If at any time the pet tests positive for the virus, the animal should be euthanized and the body incinerated. Maybe one day we'll have a cure, but for now this seems like a fair process until we have a better understanding of the disease.

The AVMA guidelines also contain recommendations both for containing the virus (e.g., handlers must wear special protective equipment, animals should receive a new crate and collar when they leave to be transported to quarantine) and for protecting the pet (e.g., the quarantine facility should be up to a certain standard, the food provided should be the same brand and type the pet is used to eating).

According to the CDC, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola, or being able to spread the virus to people or other animals. This statement does seem to contradict previously published research that showed dogs can carry Ebola. It's certainly clear that we don't completely understand how Ebola affects animals. Putting exposed dogs in quarantine gives our pets a fighting chance, but also allows scientists to learn more about the virus. Hopefully one day they'll know how to treat animals that test positive for Ebola so they won't need to automatically euthanize.

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.