One thing that has become very clear around my house the past few days is that mosquito season has arrived. Along with the annoyance, buzzing and itching, mosquitoes are of concern because they can transmit various viruses, including West Nile virus. While West Nile season tends to be later in the summer and fall in most regions, West Nile virus awareness and mosquito bite avoidance should be considered whenever mosquitoes are around.
Most of the attention about West Nile virus has been paid to humans, horses and birds, because of widespread illness and death in those species. Dogs and cats can certainly be exposed to West Nile virus if they are bitten by an infected mosquito; just like people and other animals. However, there are very few reports of West Nile virus infection in dogs, and even fewer in cats. Most dogs and cats that are infected do not develop signs of disease and simply develop antibodies against the virus.
Even if dogs or cats develop West Nile virus infection, there is no risk of transmission to other animals or human. This is because there is never a large enough amount of virus in the blood of these animals for a mosquito to pick it up and transmit it to another animal or person. The virus also can’t be transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog or cat. West Nile virus is not found in saliva, so it is also unlikely to be transmitted by an animal (instead of an insect) bite.
There is no reason to be concerned about transmission of West Nile virus from your pets. If you live an area where West Nile virus is present, you should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, such as avoiding mosquito-dense areas, wearing insect repellent with DEET, wearing long pants, long sleeves and socks when outside, avoiding peak mosquito hours (dusk and dawn) and eliminating any areas of standing water where mosquitoes can breed.