A mysterious virus is killing dogs in Michigan

Veterinarians are still trying to understand why.
Unvaccinated dogs and puppies are most at risk for canine parvovirus, a highly contagious disease. Pexels

Local, state, and federal health agencies are trying to understand a mysterious new illness sickening and killing dogs in northern Michigan. The majority of the affected dogs have been under the age of two, and the sickness was first discovered over the past two months.

Melissa FitzGerald, the Director of Animal Shelter and Control at the Otsego County Animal Shelter, said in a statement on Facebook that the sickness has killed more than 20 dogs in the county only within a few days of showing symptoms. The primarily gastrointestinal symptoms of bloody stools, diarrhea, and vomiting are similar to canine parvovirus (CPV), but so far, testing has only found some evidence of the incredibly contagious virus.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) announced that it is coordinating with local animal control and vets in multiple cities and towns, the state Association of Animal Control Officers, the federal agriculture department, and the Michigan State University Veterinary lab to find what it is.

“We are still in the early stages of this investigation, but some of the first samples submitted to the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory were positive for canine parvovirus. However, there are more results pending and more to be learned,” said State Veterinarian Nora Wineland, DVM, in a statement. “When MDARD first learned of these cases in northern Michigan, we immediately reached out to the veterinarians and animal shelters involved and began our response efforts. Protecting animal and public health is one of the department’s key pillars, but it is a team effort. Dog owners need to ensure their pet is up to date on routine vaccinations as it’s the first step in keeping your pet healthy.”

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In a similar statement, The Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lansing said that some of the first samples did test positive for CPV, but that the investigation and additional diagnostic testing would continue.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, but puppies younger than four months old and unvaccinated dogs are the most at risk. The virus is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces, environments, or people. The virus can survive outside of the body for long periods of time and can contaminate surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. It does not spread to humans, but pet owners should keep surfaces clean to help stop the spread.

There is no specific cure for CPV, but treatments to support the dog’s immune and other systems exist and offer crucial aid. With proper treatment and vaccination, almost 90 percent of dogs can survive, as long as it is detected and treated as soon as possible. Without treatment, it can be fatal within the first 48 to 72 hours of symptoms.

MDARD and other agencies are encouraging all dog owners to take simple steps to protect their animals by keeping up with routine vaccinations by ensuring dogs and puppies are vaccinated against canine parvovirus, rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis, and make sure pets are fully vaccinated before interacting with other animals,

If your pup is exhibiting any signs of illness, keep them at home and contact your veterinarian. And, of course, be sure to clean up after your pet when you’re walking them out in public.