State investigates dog virus spreading in northern Michigan

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

State health leaders say they are investigating a virus spreading to dogs primarily in northern Michigan and causing a quick onset of illness and even death, particularly among young dogs.

Samples from cases were sent by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to Michigan State University's veterinary lab in Lansing, which suspects it may be a strain of canine parvovirus.

"We are in the early stages of the investigation, but to our knowledge, it is taking place in northern Michigan," said Chelsea Lewis-Parisio, spokeswoman for Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. "Additional testing is needed and the state has reached out to local veterinarians."

Reports from Otsego County, where animal shelter director Melissa FitzGerald posted a public service announcement online earlier this month saying there have been many dogs over the last month that have gotten sick with the virus that mimics canine parvovirus. Dogs sickened by the virus vomit, are lethargic and can have bloody stool.

Tests for canine parvovirus returned negative, FitzGerald said.

"This comes on quick and most of these dogs have passed within three to five days," she told The Detroit News on Monday. "These dogs are mostly under the age of 2. Some of the dogs were vaccinated."

The animal shelter has been in close contact and monitoring the disease with veterinarians in Gaylord, Traverse City, Grayling, Mancelona and Indian River.

"The biggest thing we’re encouraging is to keep up with routine vaccinations, especially if traveling and interacting with other dogs," Lewis-Parisio said. "Make sure we’re cleaning up after our dogs and keep good hygiene. We’ll keep updating the public as we’re working through this."

Signs of the virus include:

  • diarrhea
  • bloody stool
  • vomiting
  • lethargy

Elisa Mazzaferro, an associate professor at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, said while they have not seen cases like the ones described in northern Michigan, an emergency clinician in Mexico City has.

"Canine parvovirus attacks rapidly, dividing cells, including those of the gastrointestinal tract, and leads to vomiting and diarrhea ...," she said.

FitzGerald said, "At the first sign, even if not bloody diarrhea, get (the pet) to the vet. Find out where emergency vets are at before you start your travel because in northern Michigan, there are not a lot."

Last week, Clare County Animal Control director Rudi Hicks addressed the Clare County Board of Commissioners, saying the virus is believed to have originated in Louisiana. She was quick to add that her dogs are not leaving the house, according to the Clare County Cleaver.

She doesn't suspect the issue will vanish anytime soon.

"Over the last month, it's still an issue, we're still having dogs come down from this, having them die," she said. "The Michigan State vets are working with what they have, any specimens that they can get to figure it out. What we're telling people is make sure your pet is properly vaccinated."

She has been advising dog owners to head off the beaten path when looking for a place to take a potty break. 

"Make sure they aren't going where hundreds of other dogs have gone. We suspect it's spreading through feces or from other dogs, face to face," FitzGerald said. "Make sure they stay on the sidewalks."

To keep the virus at bay, the Otsego County Animal Shelter is hosting a drive-thru vaccine clinic for dogs on Wednesday evenings through Sept. 21.

"To put a dog through this is absolutely insane," FitzGerald said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_