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Michigan officials probing mystery canine parvovirus-like disease after dozens of dogs die

NBC News 8/23/2022 Marlene Lenthang
© Provided by NBC News

Authorities are investigating a mysterious canine parvovirus-like illness that has killed dozens dogs in northern Michigan, with most dying within just three days. 

Over 20 dogs have died in Otsego County after exhibiting canine parvovirus symptoms, including throwing up and bloody stool, the Otsego County Animal Shelter said on social media. However, when when the dogs were initially tested by local veterinarians, they returned negative for the virus.

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that affects dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts with unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months most at risk, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The disease first emerged among dogs in Europe around 1976 but became less frequent thanks to the development of effective vaccines, according to the Baker Institute for Animal Health

It can spread by direct dog-to-dog contact or contact with contaminated feces or environments. 

The Otsego County Animal Shelter first posted about the cases in early August, saying they’ve received reports over the past month.

Most of the dogs in Michigan that exhibited such symptoms passed within three days, and most were under the age of 2, according to the animal shelter. 

The shelter said it does not appear that the illness is affecting certain breeds more than others and similar cases have been colloquially reported around northern and central Michigan including Vanderbilt, City of Gaylor, west of Gaylord and south of Gaylord. 

“No one has an answer. The best 'guess' is that this is a strain of parvo,” Melissa FitzGerald, Director of Animal Shelter/Control, wrote on the shelter's Facebook page.

NBC News has reached out to Otsego and Clare Counties officials for an updated number on dog deaths.

The disturbing reports have opened an investigation by several state and local agencies including the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) local animal control agencies, the Michigan Association of Animal Control Officers, local veterinarians and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is also aiding in the investigation with testing and looking for a cause of the disease. The lab will also explore "novel explanations such as new virus variants."

State Veterinarian Nora Wineland said in a release Monday the investigation efforts are still underway and some testing has led to positive parvo results.

“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,” Wineland said.

“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," she added. "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.”

MDARD officials said canine parvovirus is commonly seen in Michigan, noting the disease is not contagious to humans or other animals. 

Now officials are urging pet owners to get their pets properly vaccinated.

The Otsego County Animal Shelter said Friday, “We have not seen any dogs that die that are PROPERLY vaccinated.”

A vaccination clinic will be held at the Otsego County Fire Department Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time and will be held every Wednesday until September 21. 

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