As you may have read in my latest blog post, New Tick-Borne Virus, there is a new virus being carried and transmitted by the deer tick. Many of you have asked us, “What does this mean for our dogs?” Well, the hard answer is, we are not sure yet…
First, let us recap what exactly the Powassan virus is. The Powassan virus, which has been around since the mid-1950s, is a very fast-infecting and potentially fatal tick-borne virus that just recently has been discovered in the deer tick. The Powassan virus causes inflammation of the brain. If it does not lead to death, the Powassan virus often will leave the infected with lifelong mental disabilities.
This virus has only been recorded in 75 human cases so far. However, experts fear this number will quickly rise now that the virus is being transmitted by the deer tick, seeing that deer ticks commonly bite humans.
This begs the question, “What about our dogs?”
The number of cases of dogs infected by the Powassan virus is relatively unknown. Additionally, whether or not dogs are even susceptible to the Powassan virus remains unknown. A majority of veterinarians have not been testing for the virus. In fact, very few dogs with neurological diseases are even tested for viruses. Most Encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, in dogs is not explored beyond the study of rabies. The nature of the symptoms of Powassan virus render it difficult to know if your dog is having headaches or memory problems, which makes it hard to tell if your dog is infected, until the virus already has done an extreme amount of damage.
There was one study completed, where scientists tried to infect cats with the Powassan virus, but it was largely unsuccessful. However, this does not mean that cats are unable to get the disease; viruses are sometimes nearly impossible to reproduce in a lab setting. Powassan virus has been found in woodchucks, squirrels, and chipmunks. This results in the virus being spread, and allowing more ticks to pick up the virus by feeding on infected wildlife.
I reached out to a few local veterinarians, and their response was that the virus is so new they could not even comment on it. This is not overly surprising, given that there have only been 75 reported human cases. Also, the fact that we currently have very little ability to test for the Powassan virus.
Even though the virus is scary with how fast it infects and how deadly it is, for now, there is not an immediate risk to pet owners. We suggest that you follow tick prevention best practices to keep your dog(s) safe from ticks, as well as reduce the risk of your dog(s) transporting ticks into the house.
Thank you for reading. Stay safe this tick season!