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By Traci Guthrie

Facts about West Nile virus in dogs

The West Nile virus was first detected in North America in 1999 in New York City. West Nile virus is passed onto birds, animals and people through infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes get infected from biting birds that are infected and then biting another animal or human.

You may worry that your dog can become infected with West Nile virus. The answer is yes, although the good news is that dogs appear to be very resistant to the disease. In fact, only a few cases of West Nile infected dogs have ever been reported. Dogs contract West Nile by being bitten by an infected mosquito, or by eating an infected bird or other animal. Fortunately, West Nile is not transmitted from dog to dog.

West Nile virus symptoms

Many times, dogs do not even show any symptoms of West Nile virus. Often times, it is mistaken for a respiratory infection or the flu. If you are concerned that your dog may have West Nile virus, symptoms to watch out for are:

  • elevated fever
  • muscle pain and weakness
  • skin rashes
  • depression
  • swollen lymph nodes, found at the base of the dog's neck
  • neurological symptoms such as circling, head tilting, convulsions or seizures

Some dogs may develop an inflammation of the brain called encephalitis. This is a serious brain condition, which can be fatal. Dogs without current vaccines and with weak immune systems are most likely to develop the most severe symptoms.

Detecting the West Nile virus

If your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms above, or you feel like it may have contracted West Nile virus, a veterinarian can do a blood test that will be able to tell if that is the case.

Treatment for West Nile in dogs

Technically there is no specific treatment for the West Nile infection. Antibiotics would not be administered since West Nile is a virus. A vaccine against West Nile does exist for horses, but not for dogs. Any treatment given would just be supportive care, such as administering IV fluids or providing respiratory care.

Most likely your pet will make a full recovery from the West Nile infection. It is very rare for a dog to die from this disease.

Preventing West Nile

Since West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes, the most important thing you can do is avoid standing water. This can be done by:

  • properly maintaining swimming pools
  • frequently emptying any flowerpots, birdbaths, buckets, pet bowls, etc.
  • staying clear of stagnant ponds

Other preventative measures include:

  • repairing and tightening screens on your home
  • using air conditioning when possible
  • installing a bug zapper
  • using citronella candles
  • keeping your pets inside between dawn and dusk
  • applying products that kill or repel mosquitoes (NEVER use products that contain DEET on animals)

While West Nile virus is not a common risk to dogs, always take the same precautions that you would use to protect yourself from the disease to protect your dog. Ask your veterinarian or pet store which mosquito repelling product is safest for your pet. Prevention is key to protect against this virus that rarely affects dogs.

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