Pet Health Tips

Michigan Dog Illness Mystery Solved

Beginning in early August 2022, there was an outbreak of a mystery illness in young dogs, leading to rapid death in some. By late August, testing by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory revealed the mystery Michigan dog illness is in fact canine parvovirus. This situation is unique as the dogs that were impacted tested negative for parovirus in screening tests done in clinics and shelters. However, diagnostic tests done in the lab, have now determined the dog’s were in fact positive for canine parvovirus. Further research is currently being done to help better understand why those screening tests were showing negative results. In addition, researchers are looking to determine whether this may be a new strain or mutation of the parvovirus we have seen in dogs for the last 40 years. At this time, these cases have only been reported in Michigan. However, as with any contagious disease, the likelihood of spread is significant. The dogs affected by this Michigan dog illness did not have a history of complete vaccination. There has not been a link to any particular dog breed at this time.

What is Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus burst onto the veterinary scene in 1979. At that time, there was no parvovirus in dogs. It appeared that it may have originated from a mutation of the cat virus, panleukopenia. There was no canine parvovirus vaccine available for the first two years after the mutation occurred. Without a vaccine available, an untold numbers of dogs were left vulnerable. Even dogs who came into veterinary clinics with other disorders contracted the virus and quickly died. The symptoms of parvovirus in dogs are lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, and profoundly low white blood cell counts.

Can a Vaccinated Dog Get Parvo?

If dogs are fully vaccinated against canine parvovirus, they are typically protected against severe illness, but it is always important to talk to your dog’s veterinarian. Canine parvovirus is not contagious to people or other species of domestic animals. This evolving situation with the Michigan dog illness is a reminder of the importance of up-to-date canine vaccination. When it comes to parvo vaccination for puppies and dogs, it is important to always consult with your dog’s veterinarian. If you need help finding the right vaccine for your dog use Revival’s Vaccine Finder. This is a free tool to help determine the best dog vaccine for your pet. Vaccine Finder Button

How to Protect Your Puppy From Parvo

Additional recommendations for how to protect your dog from parvo is to:
  1. Avoid allowing young dogs, under 18 weeks of age who have not completed their vaccine series to be exposed to other dogs and areas frequented by other dogs. This means to stay home from doggie daycare, dog parks, dog training classes and grooming facilities. If possible, carry your puppy in and out of the veterinary clinic to minimize exposure.
  2. Keep up with routine dog vaccinations. Make sure your dog is vaccinated against canine parvovirus, rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis.
  3. If you live in an area where sick dogs are located, your veterinary professional may recommend an additional parvovirus vaccination to maximize protection. There are vaccines on the market that are parvovirus only.
  4. Booster adult dogs who are exposed to other dogs at areas where parvovirus may spread.
  5. If your dog is not a good candidate for a booster, ask your veterinary professional to run a blood test called a titer for parvovirus and distemper virus to assess the need for a booster.
  6. Keep elderly dogs or dogs with chronic illnesses that could make them more likely to pick up a virus from areas frequented by other dogs.
  7. Keep your dogs up to date on their monthly heartworm preventives that also include products to control intestinal parasites. These parasites can allow other diseases such as viruses to take hold and make an otherwise healthy dog sick.
  8. Pick up your dog’s feces to limit exposure to other dogs. Parvovirus is thought to live in the environment for extended periods of time. Many disinfectants including bleach can kill viruses but it is not possible to disinfect soft surfaces such as grass, furniture and carpet.

What to Do When Your Dog is Sick

If your dog is acting sick and showing signs of illness, avoid exposing other dogs and seek veterinary attention immediately. Early intervention of supportive care will improve the possibility that your dog can successfully be treated and make a full recovery. Be aware that many veterinary clinics and emergency clinics are currently unable to manage all their patients as promptly as they would like to. Be patient with the doctors and team members as they do their best to accommodate you and your dog’s needs. If you suspect your dog was exposed to parvovirus, explain this to your veterinary professional.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

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