While there are countless unknowns and mysteries still associated with the Ebola virus and its effects on human beings, the reality is that scientists have been studying it for years and now know more about the illness than ever before. However, that’s certainly not the case when it comes to the virus’ impact on dogs – virtually nothing is known.
So, can dogs be carriers of or get Ebola? If they can get infected with the virus, are they contagious to humans and/or other animals? And, should we treat dogs exposed to Ebola like humans and quarantine them?
"All of these are open research questions that don’t have very easy answers. We don't know what role the virus actually plays in dogs," said Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
The issue of Ebola and dogs came to the forefront this week after it was revealed that one of the Dallas nurses infected with Ebola may have exposed her dog, Bentley, to the virus as well.
A similar situation unfolded in Spain earlier this month where officials decided to euthanize the dog. However, in Dallas, authorities decided to quarantine the dog and see if he could be cared back to health.
The problem is that so little is known about canines and the virus.
To date, there’s only been one major study on Ebola and dogs. After a 2001 outbreak in Gabon, scientists tested more than 300 dogs and that as many as 25% formed antibodies to the virus, though, none actually showed symptoms of Ebola. However, researchers did conclude the following in the Gabon study: "Given the frequency of contact between humans and domestic dogs, canine Ebola infection must be considered as a potential risk factor for human infection and virus spread. Human infection could occur through licking, biting or grooming."
And, Dallas Health officials say they’re acting with caution.
"Bentley is being crated during his stay because he does have to be confined, because this is a public health situation," explained Jody Jones of Dallas Animal Services Commission.
Many scientists said they hope Bentley will provide some answers about the impact of Ebola in dogs.
Dr. Adalja is among them: “In this opportunity that we have in Dallas... I would hope that they would take some samples of the dog’s saliva, for example, and the dog’s urine and maybe the dog's stool and some blood, in order to know at what the virus is doing. We need to use this as an opportunity for research."