I was recently asked to write about Ebola, the virus that causes it, and whether or not the virus is a risk to our cats. To be quite honest, when I received this request, I found it necessary to do a bit of research to answer these questions. Ebola is, thankfully, a disease that I have never had cause to deal with in my practice.
During the course of my research, I turned to a trusted source: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the information they have to offer on Ebola.
Let’s discuss first exactly what Ebola is. Here’s what the CDC says:
Ebola virus is the cause of a viral hemorrhagic fever disease. Symptoms include: fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, and abnormal bleeding. Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to ebolavirus though 8-10 days is most common.
Here’s what the CDC has to say about the transmission of the disease:
Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected symptomatic person or through exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected secretions.
The CDC goes on to state that Ebola is not a food-borne or water-borne illness and cannot be transmitted through the air. They also make note that individuals who are not symptomatic of disease are not capable of transmitting the disease. In other words, to actually get Ebola from another infected person, that person has to be sick with the disease.
The CDC does not, however, mention pets such as cats in relation to Ebola. They do make note of the fact that non-human primates, bats, and rodents are suspected to be capable of carrying the disease, and contact with blood or secretions from these animals, or the ingestion of infected meat, may lead to transmission of the disease to a person. Bats are the most likely source, according to the CDC, at least in the case of the most recent disease outbreak being experienced in West Africa. However, the actual natural reservoir for the disease does remain unknown at this time.
In the interest of keeping panic about Ebola to a minimum, it’s worth noting that, as of August 10, 2014, the CDC has received no evidence of any infections that have occurred within the U.S. They also state that “Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public.”
Not finding any information specifically relating to pet cat populations or the feline species in general on the CDC site, my next step was a search of the literature, looking for evidence that cats can or cannot be infected with the disease.
The good news is that I found no evidence (through clinical studies or any reputable source) that cats can be infected and/or can be a source of transmission. The bad news is that I also found no evidence to the contrary.
Based on what we know about the disease, the virus, and how Ebola is spread, it seems unlikely that our pet cats are at risk. Of course, when dealing with living breathing beings, nobody can ever truly “never say never.” Still, I see little cause for worry, particularly for pet cats that are housed indoors and do not eat raw meat.
Dr. Lorie Huston