Veterinarians are urging pet owners to remain calm in the face of a new canine virus. The novel virus is a circovirus, known to infect pigs and birds. It was first reported in dogs in June 2012 in California and again in April 2013. In August it was found in Ohio, where an unknown illness with flu-like symptoms had killed four dogs and sickened four others, and in October in Michigan when similar illnesses occurred in Ann Arbor and Detroit. The affected dogs presented with vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, dehydration and vasculitis.
Despite the recent events in Ohio and Michigan, researchers aren’t convinced that circovirus is the primary cause of the illnesses and deaths. A positive circovirus test does not necessarily mean that it is the underlying cause of illness, as the virus has been previously found in both sick and healthy dogs.
It is believed that circovirus may be contributing to illness and death in conjunction with other infections. In the dogs that tested positive in Michigan, both were also co-infected with other diseases. One of the dogs that tested positive for circovirus in Michigan also tested positive for parvovirus. According to University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine ‘s Thomas Mullaney, “initial research shows that nearly 70% of dogs showing clinical signs of illness and found positive for circovirus were also infected with other viruses or bacteria known to cause disease.“ He also stated that by itself circovirus is not associated with a specific disease process.
Dog owners should remain vigilant for flu-like illness, and should contact a veterinarian if vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy occurs. It is currently unknown how the virus is being transmitted to dogs. Owners are being encouraged to keep up with preventative care to keep pets healthy, and to keep pets from having contact with ill animals. There is no evidence to show that circovirus can spread to humans, however standard hand-washing procedures should be utilized after handling animals, especially those with evidence of disease.