West Nile Virus

Dogs & Cats are Not at Risk


Do I need to protect my dogs from the West Nile virus?


Dr. Nichol:

This spreading infection is nerve wracking for horses, birds, and humans, but our dogs and cats are way out of the loop.

For the latest and greatest on West Nile, I contacted state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Ettestad in Santa Fe. The good doctor pointed out that with carrier mosquitoes spreading this infection as far west as Texas and Colorado, our state is likely to be next. Testing is currently being done on mosquitoes, horses, and large birds like ravens, crows, and jays. There have been only a handful of dogs with antibodies to the virus; no confirmed cases. A few rare cats may have had illness due to West Nile virus.


The good news is that our dogs and cats aren’t at risk. The bad news is that humans and horses will need to avoid mosquitoes. Use repellant; get rid of standing water, and stay inside when mosquitoes come calling.




Mosquito Repellents Without DEET are the Safest Prevention


I am very concerned about the risk of West Nile Virus and my dogs. The TV news said to use mosquito repellent that has DEET because it works best. Is DEET safe on animals? What if my dogs get West Nile Virus, how will I know?


Dr. Nichol:

I understand how you feel. Any brain disease carried by mosquitoes is scary business. There are a lot worried pet owners, and they’ll try anything, including DEET. Be careful. DEET is safe for most humans but potentially deadly on pets.


Birds, horses, and people can die from West Nile Virus, but it’s a rare cat or dog who gets sick. Symptoms would be similar to other neurologic diseases: incoordination, depression, poor appetite, tremors, and possibly seizures. There is a blood test for West Nile but it’s expensive and needs to be repeated 2-3 weeks later to have any value. There is no vaccine but you can still safely protect your pets.


DEET is risky because it absorbs through the skin. Add the internal exposure from self-grooming and you may have a disaster. Instead use repellants that match the species of pet. Flea sprays and powders containing pyrethrin will be generally safe and effective against flying insects like mosquitoes, but you may need to reapply it every few hours. I’ll make it easy for you. Contact me on my website (www.drjeffnichol.com) and I’ll e-mail you a whole list of great products.