Mysterious illness killing young dogs in Michigan, officials say

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An unidentified illness has killed over a dozen dogs in northern Michigan, according to officials.

The Otsego County Animal Shelter said in a statement Friday that over 20 dogs in the county have died due to an illness similar to parvovirus, a highly contagious and often-deadly gastrointestinal disease in dogs.

The shelter’s director, Melissa Fitzgerald, released a statement on Aug. 9 saying that most of the dogs who died were less than 2 years old and died within three days of showing symptoms.

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

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

Fitzgerald said the “best guess” for the cause of the deaths is an unknown strain of parvovirus.

According to the shelter, the illness is not affecting one breed over another, but appears to be more common in puppies and elderly dogs.

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

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 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,” state veterinarian Nora Wineland said in a statement.

“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,” Wineland added. “Protecting animal and public health is one of the department’s key pillars, but it is a team effort. 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.”

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

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

Holton said it’s essential for pet owners to get their dogs vaccinated and alert their veterinarian if they see signs of illness in their dogs.

She added that proper cleanup, to halt the spread of the disease through fecal matter, is also essential, particularly in high-capacity areas like shelters, doggy daycares and other animal-friendly places.

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

“The word ‘panic’ has been used a lot; that is certainly not what we’re doing here,” Holton said. “Prioritizing animal health is one of the key fundamentals of what our animal industry division in this department does on the daily.”

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