Mystery disease is killing young dogs in Michigan, officials say

An unidentified disease has killed more than a dozen dogs in northern Michigan, officials say.

The Otsego County Animal Shelter said in a statement Friday that more than 20 dogs in the county have died from an illness similar to parvovirus, a highly contagious and often fatal gastrointestinal illness in dogs.

Shelter manager Melissa Fitzgerald released a statement Aug. 9 saying most of the deceased dogs were under 2 years old and died within three days of showing symptoms.

Fitzgerald said symptoms included bloody diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite.

However, when the dogs were taken in to be tested for parvovirus, the statement said, the tests came back negative.

Fitzgerald said the “best estimate” of the cause of death is an unknown strain of parvovirus.

According to the shelter, the disease does not affect one breed over another, but seems to be more common in puppies and older dogs.

The shelter’s statement added that no properly vaccinated dogs have been among those who have died in recent weeks.

PHOTO: A veterinarian secures an IV drip line on a sick puppy's leg with an adhesive bandage, in a file photo.

A veterinarian secures an IV drip line on a sick puppy’s leg with an adhesive bandage, in a file photo.

STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is investigating the recent deaths.

“We are still in the early stages of this investigation, but some early samples submitted to the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory were positive for canine parvovirus. However, there are more results pending. and more to learn,” said vet Nora. Wineland said in a statement.

“When MDARD learned of these cases in Northern Michigan, we immediately contacted the veterinarians and animal shelters involved and began our response efforts,” Wineland added. “Protecting animal and public health is one of the main pillars of the department, but it is a team effort. Dog owners should ensure their pet is up to date on routine vaccinations as it is a is the first step to keeping your pet healthy.”

Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, told ABC News that because parvovirus is not a reportable disease, officials are working primarily with anecdotal information.

“Parvo is an incredibly resilient virus,” Holton said. “And by that, I mean it can survive various temperatures and all kinds of things.”

Holton said it’s critical that pet owners get their dogs vaccinated and alert their veterinarian if they see any signs of illness in their dogs.

She added that proper cleaning, to stop the spread of disease through feces, is also essential, especially in high-capacity areas like shelters, dog daycares and other animal-friendly places.

While the mystery surrounding current death rates is concerning, Holton said officials have the investigation under control.

“The word ‘panic’ has been thrown around a lot; that’s definitely not what we’re doing here,” Holton said. “The priority given to animal health is one of the fundamental principles of what our animal industry division in this department does on a daily basis.”

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