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Local News

Mystery Illness Killing Canines Identified as Parvovirus

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

A release from Michigan’s Department of Agriculture & Rural Development confirms that the lethal illness affecting dogs in northern Michigan is parvovirus, a disease preventable with a vaccine.

Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease transmittable between canines, spread through fecal oral contamination. The virus has symptoms including lethargy, fever or chills, vomiting, bloating and diarrhea. The disease cannot be spread to humans, but it can be devastating to our four-legged companions, especially those unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. 

On August 19th, Otsego County Animal Shelter shared on its Facebook page that an unidentified illness claimed the lives of nearly two dozen dogs in the county. The infected dogs had stomach-related symptoms and were tested for parvo, but point-of-care tests in the area came back negative for the virus. 

It was not until Michigan State University performed more sensitive diagnostic testing at their veterinary diagnostic lab that they identified the affliction as parvovirus. 

“Sometimes we test ourselves (for COVID) at home and our screening test is negative, but then you go get a PCR and it’s positive. So the same thing can be true for any kind of viral infection,” said Tina Lewandowski, who owns a 7-year old rescue that has a sensitive stomach with symptoms that often mimic parvo. 

Before the strain was identified, dog owners in the Otsego area were worried for the safety of their pets. “I heard about it on Monday and everybody was kind of freaking out,” said Khusheu Mistry from Detroit, 27, who adopted her dog, Zar, during the COVID pandemic. “I think everyone was avoiding the dog park — I know I was.”

During parvo outbreaks, areas where dogs congregate (e.g. parks and boarding facilities) become high risk places. For many dog parents, like Becky Briskin, 36, the dog park is an important outlet for socialization. “It’s nice to be able to meet up with a friend and have your dogs run around,” she said. “The dog park has been really great for us, especially during the pandemic when daycares were closed.”

An essential part of maintaining the health and safety of your pets is their inoculations. According to the statement by the state’s Department of Agriculture, the dogs that died of parvo “did not have a history of complete vaccination.” Most were pups less than 2 years old and dogs in their senior years.

Kari Beer, an emergency and critical care specialist with Oakland Veterinary Referral Services in Bloomfield Hills, says that dogs who are up to date on their routine care and vaccinations will most likely be safe from parvo. 

“The distemper combination vaccines, which is the one that pets typically get several boosters of when they’re a puppy, and then it’s usually repeated every year to three years depending on the dog’s age, does include the parvovirus vaccine,” said Beer. 

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing animal cruelty, the parvovirus vaccine is considered a “core” inoculation for dogs.