Zika Virus, Mosquitoes and Dogs: Q&A with Dr. Dwight Bowman

Golden Retriever, owner concerned about Zika virus

These particularly timely questions about mosquito-transmitted disease and more, are answered by veterinary parasitologist, Dr. Dwight Bowman, professor at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Bowman is also on the Board of Directors of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), which tracks parasite transmission to pets in the U.S. The mission of the CAPC is to generate and disseminate credible, accurate and timely information for the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of parasitic infections.
Q: Do dogs get the Zika virus? S. T., Lake Buena Vista, FL

Q: I am a Labrador Retriever breeder and I am where mosquitoes are. I’m concerned about my bitches coming down with Zika and birth defects in puppies. Has this been studied?  C. C., Spartanburg, SC

A: “We don’t believe that dogs get the Zika virus,” Bowman says.  However, it’s unlikely dogs have been tested for the virus. In any case, they don’t appear to get sick. No birth defects in puppies as a result of Zika has been reported.

The Zika virus, transmitted to people by mosquitoes or by infected individuals through sexual contact, has been in the news because of an outbreak in parts of South and Central America and the Caribbean. The Zika virus has caused Guillain-Barré Syndrome and resulted in pregnant women giving birth to babies with severe birth defects. However, for most people, (and those not pregnant) there are few if any symptoms, other than some individuals with flu-like symptoms.

To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control, locally transmitted Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and America Samoa. Zika virus transmitted by local mosquitoes has not been reported in the contiguous US, although infection has been confirmed in travelers returning to the US. Experts generally concur it’s just a matter of time before Zika appears in the contiguous 48.  

“Viruses are generally host specific,” adds Bowman. “The virus is in the same family as Denghe fever, which affects people and not dogs,” which further strengthens the unlikeliness of Zika affecting dogs.

Bowman notes that at least some of the mosquito species that carry Zika may also carry heartworm disease, which does infect dogs if they are without heartworm protection.  

Q: Does DEET work to keep mosquitoes off dogs?  D.D., Daytona Beach, FL.

A: Bowman says DEET would very likely work to keep mosquitoes off dogs, but the effectiveness and potential health risks (since dogs groom themselves and would lick the repellant) hasn’t been studied.

All dogs should be protected against heartworm. “That protection works,” Bowman says.

However, extra protection isn’t a bad idea. Often dogs may suffer dozens of bites or even more because they’re so close to the ground and often run into bushes or standing water, which people may not do.  While mosquitoes don’t transmit Zika to dogs, mosquito bites can’t be comfortable, and so much remains unknown about the nasty pathogens they can carry – no bite means less worry.

There are several products available with permethrin (an ingredient that repels mosquitoes), which have been tested to be safe for dogs. Many of these are effective at repelling and killing fleas and ticks (suggested for all dogs anyway) as well as sand flies and some mites, as well as repelling and killing mosquitoes!

Your veterinarian can comment about whether or not extra protection to repel mosquitoes is a good idea for your pet(s), and which product might be best.

[Note: products with permethrin are hazardous to cats.]

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Wednesday, June 22, 2016