These may have been the “dog days of Summer,” but many dogs in Michigan seem to be having it particularly “ruff” lately. A yet-to-be-identified pathogen, presumably a virus, has been spreading in the state and has reportedly left over 30 dogs dead already. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has announced that it’s working with local animal control agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and others to further investigate reports of a canine parvovirus-like illness that’s been affecting dogs in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. That’s the top of the hand part of the Michigan mitten.
Note that the MDARD said “canine parvovirus-like” and not simply “canine parvovirus.” While the illnesses so far have seemed very canine parvovirus-y, the affected dogs’ stool have tested negative for the standard canine parvovirus. Assuming that everything’s cool with the stool tests, this suggests that the culprit may be either a new yet-to-be-discovered type of canine parvovirus or a completely different pathogen. While there is an effective vaccine against your standard canine parvovirus, both vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs have gotten sick in this Michigan outbreak. Dianne Alward-Biery, writing for the Clare County Cleaver, quoted Clare County Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks as telling the Clare County Board of Commissioners on August 17, “As of today, from last Thursday [August 11] until now, we’ve had over 30 dogs die of a virus, a disease – not at the shelter – in the county. It mimics Parvo, so it’s vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and they all died within three days: vaccinated dogs and unvaccinated dogs.” Of note, August 11 was technically the end of the “dog days of Summer” based on the Farmer’s Almanac. Hicks also said that infected dogs have died within three days of their first showing symptoms.
Such a disease course is sounding very Parvo-like. When dogs get ill from the canine parvovirus it’s often no walk in the park. They can suffer from a fever, hypothermia, lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, bloating, and vomiting. And poop there is. The dogs can have severe, often bloody, diarrhea, which can leave them very dehydrated. This can proceed to septic shock and result in death within 48 to 72 hours. So, if your dog tells you that he or she has canine parvovirus illness, after you say, “how the heck are you talking to me” and “how the heck do you know, did you Google your symptoms,” make sure that you contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. There’s no specific medication for canine parvovirus illness, but the vet can administer aggressive electrolyte, protein and fluid replacement treatment to prevent shock and death.
And isolate your dog away from everyone and everydog else. The canine parvovirus is very, very contagious. Just a very small amount of poop can carry enough virus to infect others. And since dogs aren’t always great at using the toilet, washing their paws, and the whole don’t-lick-everything-you-see thing, infected dogs may end contaminating any kennel surfaces, bowls, collars, leashes, sailor dog uniforms, and other objects around them. This includes the hands and clothing of people. Therefore, thoroughly clean and disinfectant everything that an infected dog has touched.
Moreover, if you haven’t already done so, get your dog vaccinated against the canine parvovirus as well as rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis. The canine parvovirus vaccine may not protect against this yet-to-be-determined canine parvovirus-like illness, but it does offers very good (although not 100%) protection against the standard canine parvovirus. A small percentage of vaccinated dogs may still end up getting infected with the standard canine parvovirus. Now you yourself probably don’t have to worry about becoming ill from the canine parvovirus, assuming that you don’t have four legs, a tail, and a strong predilection to licking yourself. The parvoviruses that can infect humans are different from the canine parvovirus, which is the reason for the word “canine.”
Of course, it’s still not clear what specific pathogen is causing this current outbreak in Michigan. There haven’t been any reported human illnesses to date. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to maintain appropriate infection prevention precautions. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, making sure that you lather your hands with soap and water for at least 20 “woof-woofs.” Keep any areas that may have been touched by your dog clean and disinfected. And pay attention to any symptoms that your dog may be having. It is your doggy duty to tell if there’s something wrong with your doggy’s doody.