Feral Pig Virus Threatens Pets, Here’s What You Need to Know

John Carnemolla / shutterstock.com
John Carnemolla / shutterstock.com

Two wild pigs found in Calaveras County, California, have tested positive for a potentially deadly virus, sparking concerns about pet safety in the region. The United States Department of Agriculture detected the presence of the Pseudorabies (PRV) virus in samples from these pigs, located within a 10-mile radius of Burson, as confirmed by a spokesperson from the Calaveras Health and Human Services Agency. 

Feral swine have spread widely across the United States from their original habitat in Eurasia. They’re now found in 35 out of 50 states, with Texans encountering them in almost every county throughout the Lone Star State. This expansion began with the intentional release of the pigs for hunting.  

Feral pigs have significant ecological and economic impacts. Their rooting behavior damages vegetation, disrupts soil structure, and leads to erosion, altering ecosystems.  

Agriculturally, they destroy crops like corn and soybeans by uprooting plants and consuming produce while posing a threat to domestic livestock through disease transmission and pasture damage. The annual economic impact in the U.S. exceeds $1.5 billion due to these factors and the costs associated with controlling feral pig populations.  

Regarding human safety, they contribute to vehicle collisions, especially at night, and can exhibit aggressive behavior when threatened, posing risks to human safety. Additionally, feral pigs carry diseases like brucellosis and leptospirosis, which can also affect humans and livestock. 

The discovery of the Pseudorabies (PRV) virus in feral hogs also makes them a risk to pets. Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a highly contagious illness. Dogs can contract PRV via bites, scratches, or consuming contaminated meat. The virus can also spread from infected pets to their offspring during birth. Pets living near wild boars and hunting dogs face a heightened risk of infection. 

Symptoms of PRV, sometimes known as “mad itch,” in dogs and cats include extreme itching around the face, difficulty breathing, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, swelling, loss of coordination, muscle spasms, fever, excessive drooling, and incoordination. The incubation period for PRV in dogs and cats ranges from 2 to 9 days, and many infected dogs succumb within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, some pets may die without showing typical symptoms. 

Treating pseudorabies (PRV) in pets focuses on symptom management and supportive care since there’s no specific cure. Treatment typically involves hospitalization for pets with severe symptoms, providing IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and medications to control seizures or respiratory distress. Veterinarians may prescribe medications tailored to alleviate fever, nausea, or pain based on the dog’s needs. Ensuring proper nutrition and hydration is crucial, especially if the dog has a decreased appetite due to the infection. Infected dogs should be isolated from other animals to prevent the spreading of the virus. While PRV in pets often carries a poor prognosis, prompt identification and treatment can improve their chances of recovery. 

PRV can survive for a few hours on clean concrete or mixed soil, up to three days on plastic and steel surfaces, two days in manure, and four days in whole corn. PRV can endure in soil for up to six days when mixed with bodily fluids. Under optimal conditions, certain virus particles may survive for 40 to 120 days. 

Other wildlife can become infected with PRV, meaning that your pet’s chance encounters with rodents, raccoons, possums, and other mammals can lead to illness. PRV affects almost every mammal except horses and humans. Birds appear immune to PRV. 

While a PRV vaccine is available, it is not part of your pet’s routine shots. If you live where feral pigs are common, ask your vet if vaccination is appropriate. It’s advised to keep your pets leashed and under close supervision, and should your dog or cat begin to display signs of illness, isolate them from other pets and take them to the vet immediately. 

PRV isn’t yet a widespread threat to pets, but it’s essential to understand the potential risks and signs of infection, especially if you live in an area where feral pigs are becoming more common.