Canine parvovirus has been identified as the illness that has killed dozens of dogs in the last month in the northern and central parts of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, state officials said Wednesday.
It has killed more than 20 dogs in Otsego County alone, usually within days of them presenting symptoms of vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy and loss of appetite, the county animal shelter in Gaylord, a 60-mile drive northeast of Traverse City, said Friday on Facebook.
More than 30 dogs died of similar symptoms in Clare County, three counties to the south, that county's animal control director told officials last week, according to the Clare County Cleaver. Similar reports have been made around northern and central Michigan.
"Canine parvovirus is a severe and highly contagious disease in dogs but (the state) and veterinary professionals have extensive experience with this virus," state veterinarian Nora Wineland said in a statement from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Dogs that are not fully vaccinated are at the most risk, Wineland noted, adding that effective vaccines are available.
Full vaccination protects the animals against severe illness, and cases should not cause dog owners to "drastically change" how they care for their pets or where they plan to travel, the statement said.
What should dog owners know about canine parvovirus?
Routine canine vaccinations include those against parvovirus, the department added.
Experts were challenged after affected dogs tested negative during the initial screening by veterinarians, the Otsego County shelter and the Clare County animal control director had said.
"While those tests are valuable in the clinical setting, they are not as sensitive as the diagnostic tests we can perform here in the laboratory. We continue to further characterize the virus in hopes of better understanding why those animals were testing negative on screening tests," said Kim Dodd, the director of the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at Michigan State University.
Some of the first samples submitted to Michigan State's veterinary diagnostic laboratory were positive for parvovirus, the lab and the state agriculture department said Monday.
The affected dogs in Otsego County have generally been under 2 years old or elderly, the county shelter said.
"We have not seen any dogs ... die that are PROPERLY vaccinated," the shelter's Facebook post reads.
Canine parvovirus is spread by dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces and environments, the veterinary medical association says. It is not contagious to people or other types of animals, the state agriculture department said.
No drug will kill parvovirus in infected dogs, so treatment for that virus focuses on supporting the body's systems -- including by replacing electrolyte, protein and fluid losses -- so the immune system can fight the infection, the veterinary medical association says.
Survival rates for parvovirus "can approach 90%" with proper treatment, though when death happens, it usually occurs 48 to 72 hours after symptoms start, the association says.
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