Local, state and federal agencies are urgently investigating a mysterious disease — which the state said has parvovirus-like symptoms in dogs — that has killed dozens of dogs in northern Michigan.
Animal control officials said Monday the cause is unclear. It’s also not known if it’s linked to canine diseases reported in Europe as early as 2019 – or if it could be contracted by humans.
However, there is no evidence yet that the disease has spread to humans, and so far there is nothing that could link the cases to reported dog deaths in Europe, other than similar symptoms, which experts say are common.
The state department of agriculture said Monday it is now coordinating with local animal control and veterinarians, the state association of animal control officers, the federal department of agriculture and the veterinary lab at Michigan State University and to find out what it is.
The outbreak was first reported in Otsego County.
About 30 dogs — privately owned, mostly unvaccinated — have died in Otsego County alone, said Melissa FitzGerald, director of Otsego County Animal Control. She said it doesn’t look like the dogs have interacted with each other.
“It’s scary,” FitzGerald added. “There are many things it could be.”
For at least two months, the dozen dogs in northern Michigan have exhibited parvovirus-like symptoms, vomiting and had diarrhea, which is often bloody. But when tested for parvovirus, the results were negative.
Rudi Hicks, director of Clare County Animal Control, said the virus appears to kill dogs within days and has speculated that it could be a new strain of the parvovirus, but it could also be something completely different.
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“We have received a small number of samples to the lab and many of them test positive for canine parvovirus,” said Kim Dodd, director of the MSU lab. “But the more samples we receive from animals with these clinical signs, the better we are able to definitively explain the cause of the outbreak.”
The ag department said that while canine parvovirus is “a highly contagious virus of dogs,” the disease is “NOT” — the state emphasized by noting in bold and capital letters — contagious to humans or other animals.
The virus can be passed on to other dogs, but a very effective vaccine is available to protect dogs from the disease.
“When we learn about these situations, we take action and respond,” said state veterinarian Nora Wineland. “It is vital to understand all the circumstances surrounding a case as this information will help us better protect human and animal health.”
Canine parvovirus, also known as CPV or parvo, affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract and is spread through dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces and environments.
Unvaccinated dogs and puppies under four months of age are most at risk.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people handling infected dogs.
What makes parvo so dangerous is that it can withstand heat, cold, humidity and desiccation, and can survive in the environment for a long time.
Even traces of feces from an infected dog can harbor the virus and infect other dogs that come into the infected environment. The virus is easily transmitted from place to place on dogs’ hair or feet or through contaminated cages, shoes, or other objects.
In 2019, the British Broadcasting Corp. also a mysterious illness in Norway that sickened more than 40 dogs that had become sick with vomiting and diarrhea, and several died later.
The first cases were in Oslo, others were reported in different cities.
In addition, the BBC said, a dog in Sweden also had symptoms.
And in January a mobile veterinary care company in England warned on Twitter that it treated dogs with those symptoms.
And more recently, the website iheartdogs.com reported that 150 dogs in the North East of England appeared to be getting sick after a walk on the beach. They also suffered from abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
Wineland said it is too early to comment on the mystery disease in Europe.
But the state’s agriculture department strongly encourages pet owners to “work with their vet to make sure their dog is up to date on routine vaccinations.”
If dogs or puppies show signs of illness, the state urges owners to keep their dogs at home, away from other dogs and call a vet. In addition, the state asked veterinarians to report any unusual conditions in animals.
Please contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected]