Dozens of dogs died from a parvovirus-like illness — what owners need to know – MarketWatch

A mysterious illness resembling canine parvovirus has killed dozens of Michigan puppies over the past few weeks, according to local officials. 
Otsego County Animal Shelter in northern Michigan recently shared a Facebook post warning that more than 20 dogs have died after presenting symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, lethargy and loss of appetite. More recent reports have pushed the canine fatalities to over 30 in Otsego Country, with an outbreak of another 30 deaths reported in Clare County.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Monday that it is investigating these reports to determine what exactly made these dogs ill. State Veterinarian Nora Wineland wrote that some of the first test samples from the sick puppies came up positive for canine parvovirus, which is highly contagious and often affects puppies’ gastrointestinal tracts. (Indeed, most of the dogs reported dead in Otsego Country were under 2 years old.) But more tests and results are pending. 
Related: Should workers get time off when a pet dies?
Health officials believe this could be a new strain of the parvovirus — and the best defense is to make sure that dogs are vaccinated against it. “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,” Wineland said. 
So what is canine parvovirus, and what are the signs that dog owners should watch out for? Here is what you need to know about parvo — which can have a 90% survival rate if treated quickly — as well as some tips from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on how to keep your pet safe.
Canine parvovirus, aka parvo, is a highly contagious illness that is common in puppies that aren’t vaccinated against the virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s canine parvovirus explainer. It affects dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts, which can be fatal if the dog is not treated quickly. That’s because persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, damage the intestines and immune system, and cause septic shock. So if your pup shows any symptoms, it’s important to contact a vet as soon as possible. 
Signs of parvovirus include: lethargy; loss of appetite; abdominal pain and bloating; fever or low body temperature (hypothermia); vomiting; and severe, often bloody, diarrhea. If your puppy or dog shows any of these symptoms, contact a vet ASAP. 
Parvo is highly contagious among dogs — it is not contagious to people or other animals, however. It spreads by direct dog-to-dog contact, as well as through contact with contaminated feces, environments or people. The virus is hard to kill, and even trace amounts of feces from an infected dog can harbor the virus and infect other dogs that come into contact with it. So, good hygiene and staying up-to-date on vaccinations are both key to keeping dogs safe. 
The virus can also contaminate food and water bowls, collars and leashes, kennel surfaces, as well as the hands and clothes of people who handle infected dogs. So people who are in contact with sick or exposed dogs should wash their hands and change their clothes before handling other dogs — or avoid handling other dogs at all. 
What’s more, the American Veterinary Medical Association advises that in order to prevent spreading parvovirus (or other diseases), dogs that have been vomiting or that have had diarrhea, or dogs exposed to sick dogs, should not be taken to dog parks, kennels, show grounds, groomers or other areas where they will come into contact with other dogs. 
There is no specific drug available that can kill the parvovirus in dogs, so treatment centers around keeping the body stable until the pup’s own immune system can fight the virus off. Treatment should begin as soon as possible, and usually includes intensive care efforts to prevent dehydration by replacing fluids, protein and electrolytes that the dog may have lost with vomiting and diarrhea. Vets also recommend that dogs sick with parvo be kept warm and receive good nursing care. The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that parvo survival rates can reach 90% with proper care.
Unfortunately, treating canine parvovirus can get quite expensive, especially if the dog needs to be put in an intensive care unit and hospitalized for a long time. Diagnosis and treatment can run between $500 and $2,000. 
Related: ‘They’ve owned these pets for years’: People are giving up family dogs they adopted long before the pandemic, mostly due to inflation, shelters say
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development shared some tips for dog owners to protect their pets, including: 
• Keeping up with routine vaccinations.  
Prevention is the best form of protection, and health officials recommend getting puppies vaccinated within their first few months of life, followed by another dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age, regardless of how many doses they received earlier. (This is because breast-feeding may interfere with a puppy’s response to the vaccine, so a series of shots is recommended.)  
And pet owners should check with their vets to make sure their adult dogs are up-to-date on their vaccines. Lab tests can check the number of antibodies in your dog’s blood to determine whether your pup needs a booster shot. And you should make sure your dogs and puppies are vaccinated in general against rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and leptospirosis as well, health officials said. 
• Ensure dogs/puppies are fully vaccinated before interacting with other animals. 
If your fur baby isn’t up-to-date on their vaccines, health officials suggest being cautious about bringing them into contact with other animals, such as at dog parks or during walks. 
• Keep dogs/puppies at home and away from other dogs when they’re sick. 
If your dog is showing any signs that they’re not feeling well — especially if they’re vomiting or have diarrhea — then keep them away from other animals, and contact a veterinarian. It’s important to take care of your pet’s symptoms before they get worse — and to also protect other pets from getting sick and spreading disease any further. 
• Clean up after your pet during walks — and don’t let your pet eat or sniff at another animal’s waste.
This should go without saying, but picking up after your dog is important for keeping your neighborhood sanitary, and preventing parvovirus or other diseases that can sicken both humans and animals from spreading in your community. And keep a close eye on your dog during walks to make sure that they don’t come into contact with other dogs’ poop — which is a key way that parvo and other diseases spread. 
For more information about canine parvovirus, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s parvo page here.
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Nicole Lyn Pesce is News Editor, Trending at MarketWatch and is based in New York.
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