Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a serious condition that affects the human immune system. As it says in the name, this virus works by suppressing the immune system. It depletes the white blood cells in the bloodstream, which weakens the immune system and allows for opportunistic infections. A weakened immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off common infections such as the flu.
The disease is highly contagious among humans, but what about dogs? It would be a serious concern for responsible pet parents if their furry child was at risk of getting HIV infected. Keep reading to learn more about whether dogs can get HIV or not.
Can Dogs Get HIV From A HIV+ Person?
There is a common fear among pet owners about their dogs getting infected with HIV. HIV-positive dog parents, or people who know someone HIV-positive, might be worried about their dogs contracting the virus through contact with infected humans.
However, as the name suggests (it’s an acronym for human immunodeficiency virus), the virus can only affect humans. So the simple answer is NO, a dog can’t get infected with HIV. There has been no case to date of a dog contracting the virus. HIV is a very fragile virus that does not survive long in the environment and outside of a human’s body. A dog’s mouth is the least hospitable location for the virus.
However, dogs can develop symptoms that mimic the symptoms of an HIV infection, but they are always due to a different underlying cause. While they can’t get HIV, they can suffer from conditions that affect their immune system and result in a weakened immune system. These illnesses leave them vulnerable to common infections just like an HIV-positive person. Some of these conditions include complement-3 deficiency, autoimmune disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Alarming Symptoms Similar To HIV Symptoms
Symptoms in dogs that are alarming and demand immediate veterinary attention include:
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Lameness or inability to walk
- Reluctance to exercise
- Poor or loss of appetite
- Constipation or diarrhea
Diseases That Cause These Symptoms
The causes of these symptoms may vary from an immune-mediated disease to the common flu. It could be an inherited disease or occur due to an underlying health condition/trigger in the environment. Some of the conditions that cause these symptoms include:
- Autoimmune Disorders – refer to a variety of immune-related diseases and conditions. These can include diseases of the skin, eyes, brain, kidneys, bone marrow, joints, or blood. In an autoimmune disorder, your pet’s immune system starts attacking its own cells and tissues.
- Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency – is a rare inherited blood disorder that results from breed-specific mutations in genes that are integral to platelet and blood cell activity. Affected dogs have abnormal blood clotting and dysfunctional immune systems.
- Pneumonia – is caused by inflammation in the lungs and airways. This causes breathing difficulties and a deficiency of oxygen in the blood. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, weight loss, and dehydration.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – is a rare chronic and systematic autoimmune disease that attacks the joints and specifically degrades the cartilage. This disease makes the body mistake its own proteins for foreign proteins and eradicate them.
- Flu – also called Canine Influenza. This can present itself with no signs as well as severe symptoms ranging from a fever to the development of pneumonia, sometimes even resulting in death.
Treatment Of These Conditions
The vet is likely to prescribe a combination of medications to reach faster results. Lower doses of multiple medications also lower the risk of side effects. Most veterinary protocols start with glucocorticoids (steroids such as prednisone) alone or merged with strong immunosuppressive medications such as azathioprine to stop the body from destroying its own cells.
In the case of severe autoimmune hemolytic anemia, a blood transfusion might be necessary. Some autoimmune diseases are easier to manage, while others might be life-long and require treatment throughout the dog’s life.
Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency
Treatment of this rare genetic immunodeficiency disease usually includes stem cell gene therapy. In some cases, a nonmyeloablative bone marrow transplantation. Immunosuppressive medications such as cyclosporine are also used in the treatment.
Although some dogs can live for years with this condition, most affected dogs die early from severe infection or bleeding from an accidental injury. However, the latest treatments such as nonmyeloablative bone marrow transplantation have been successful and some dogs have managed to live free of any signs or symptoms of the disease for years after treatment.
The treatment of this condition often includes anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications. There is no definite cure for rheumatoid arthritis. The aim of the treatment is to reduce symptoms and provide relief for the dog. Some medications that are used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in humans, such as methotrexate, are also used in dogs.
Pneumonia is commonly treated through anti-inflammatory medications for fever and pain, and bronchodilators and expectorants for coughing and breathing problems. Antibiotics may also be used. In severe cases, hospitalization is necessary to allow for more intensive treatments such as supplemental oxygen, intravenous antibiotics, or fluid therapy.
What You Can Do
If your dog shows any symptoms similar to HIV, it could be due to the many conditions we listed above. These illnesses are potentially life-threatening if left untreated, so it is crucial to seek veterinary assistance. Have your vet examine your dog if any of the symptoms we listed are persistent.
The vet will ask you a variety of questions pertaining to the overall health of your dog, when you began to notice the symptoms, and the severity of the symptoms. They will also ask you about any recent and past illnesses your dog has had and how long they lasted. They can then work out a problem list and decide on the tests needed to make a diagnosis.
We hope it’s clear now that dogs can’t possibly contract HIV. They can theoretically transmit the virus if they bite an infected person and then immediately bite an uninfected person right after that. However, there are no reported cases of this ever occurring in history. The virus cannot survive for a prolonged period of time in a dog’s mouth or body and cannot affect a dog even if they come in contact with it.