Mosquito-transmitted virus Zika has taken over headlines lately, and the longer it sticks around, the worse the virus seems. It can affect healthy adults and the damage it can cause to unborn fetuses is scary news for pregnant women across the Americas. With news that Zika can cause microcephaly and neurological complications such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome and myelitis, researchers are aiming to discover as much as possible about the virus. One question that frequently pops up actually concerns our furry friends, and rightly so — they're part of the family. So how does Zika affect pets?
The good news is, there haven't been any reported cases of Zika affecting pets. The bad news is, there hasn't really been enough research on the connection between Zika and animals (beyond mosquitoes, of course) to conclusively say they cannot be affected, but experts do know that some animals have contracted Zika.
According to the CDC, Zika was actually first detected in a mildly feverish monkey in Uganda's Zika Forest in the 1940s. Other primates have since been infected with the virus, but none have shown any symptoms other than a mild fever (if they have any symptoms at all). Another range of experiments in the 1970s proved that non-primate animals could be infected as well, when researchers in Indonesia infected cows, horses, water buffalo, goats, ducks, and bats with the virus — but there was no evidence that they actually developed the disease or that they could then transmit it afterwards.
Veterinarian Jennifer Coates, DVM, wrote for Pet MD:
At this point, mosquito control measures and the use of repellants labeled for animals are the best preventative measures available should you have to travel to a Zika endemic area with your pet or if natural transmission through mosquito bites does become a problem locally in the future.
To my knowledge, there have been no reports of illness or birth defects related to Zika virus infection in animals. That does not necessarily mean that it does not occur, however. It simply means that the research has not been done.
So it looks like the verdict is still out for pet owners concerned about the threat of Zika, and I have a feeling it will remain that way for a while — researchers are racing to do something about Zika in humans, so it might be a while before similar research on animals catches up.