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When It Comes To Ebola And Dogs, Not Much Is Known

There’s a four-legged character in this Ebola drama who’s captured a lot of hearts – Nina Pham’s dog, Bentley. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has vowed that the dog will be cared for. We know a lot about how the Ebola virus is spread in humans, but what about the virus and dogs? 

The experts say, not much.

“There hasn’t been much study because Ebola is a hard virus to study because it’s fatality rate is so high," says Dr. James Wright, a veterinarian based in Tyler. He spent 19 years with the Texas Department of State Health Services, specializing in zoonotic diseases -- those travel from animal to human.

“There hasn’t really been a perceived need for a study because what we’re seeing in West Africa is essentially human-to-human transmission.”

Much of what we do know about Ebola and dogs comes from a 2005 study of an outbreak in Gabon. The study found that dogs could carry the virus, but not necessarily show symptoms. The study did not look into whether infected dogs were contagious, or if the virus lives in their droppings.

Wright says resources are so thin in West Africa that studying dogs is not a high priority.

“It takes very very high level of containment laboratory to make sure none of that virus gets out," he says.

Last week, there was world-wide outrage whena dog named Excalibur was euthanized. He belonged to a nursing assistant in Spain who’s been infected.

As for one-year-old Bentley, Dallas Animal Services will oversee his care while he is monitored for Ebola over the next few weeks. 

Bentley is being monitored at Hensley Field with comfortable bedding and plenty of toys. He's being cared for by workers wearing protective gear. 

Credit Dallas Animal Services

And although we don’t know much about how the virus affects pets, Wright says there's no need to worry.

"That dog is not roaming the streets or going to the mall," he says. "That dog is in quarantine, where nobody can get to it except its caretakers.” 

Here's what the CDC has to say on the Ebola virus and pets:

At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola. There is limited evidence that dogs become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence that they develop disease. The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a symptomatic person sick with Ebola. There would not be any reason to test a dog or cat for Ebola if there was no exposure to a person infected with Ebola. Currently, routine testing for Ebola is not available for pets.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.