A New Virus Threatens Dogs: Circovirus

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For more from Dr. Ernie Ward, find him on Facebook or at www.drernieward.com.

Pet food recalls can really confuse pet owners. Potentially tainted pet food was initially blamed for the death of three dogs that died while boarding at a Norwood, Ohio boarding and grooming facility. Owners of the deceased dogs were upset and rightfully demanded answers from veterinary health officials. What happened next is the stuff of a science fiction horror story, only it’s happening right now.

The recalled dog food was quickly eliminated as a culprit by Ohio Department of Agriculture and The Ohio State University. Officials suspected a viral outbreak at the boarding facility. Initial tests for all major pathogens and diseases soon returned negative. Poisons, toxic chemicals and injury were also ruled out. Disease experts were facing a diagnostic dead-end. Before the deaths could be chalked up to bad luck, social media helped uncovered some surprising clues and kicked off a nationwide detective hunt.

Awareness by media and social media reports led other Ohio veterinarians to report similar suspicious dog deaths. Canine patients were vomiting, experiencing bloody diarrhea, had high hematocrit values (a blood test), vasculitis (damage to blood vessels), fluid in the lungs, and profound weakness. Many died within days despite aggressive treatment. Other dogs survived after being severely ill. The Ohio state veterinary pathology lab couldn’t find a cause. August 2013 was turning into a deadly month for many unfortunate Ohio dogs. The tragedy was that no one knew why.

As the story spread on Facebook and Twitter, infectious disease expert veterinarians learned of the Ohio dogs and began to suspect a new type of virus might be to blame. The problem was, only one lab possessed the tools to diagnose the virus and it was in California. Veterinarians believed a relatively common type of virus found in pigs and birds known as Circovirus now posed a threat to dogs. An April 2013 paper published in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases described similar symptoms in a sick California dog. Sadly, the California dog died after being kenneled for three weeks and contracting the virus. Other comparable deaths were investigated and canine Circovirus identified. Could this new dog virus be killing the Ohio dogs?

Initial lab results confirmed Circovirus in the first Ohio dog tested. Results are pending on other dogs with similar symptoms in the Cincinnati and Canton areas. Of eight dogs reported with vasculitis, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, rapid heart rate, and fluid in the lungs, four died. Officials say it could take weeks to completely determine the exact cause of death and if the Ohio dogs have the same viral strain as the one from California. Good science takes time.

Because this is a new virus for dogs, we don’t fully understand how it affects the majority of dogs. We don’t even completely know how canine Circovirus is spread. Based on initial research conducted at University of California, Circovirus seems to be more of a problem as a secondary infection in dogs. Other research suggests that individual animals may be more susceptible to this type of virus due to genetics and other factors. What does this mean for your dog?

Experts urge caution and stress this isn’t a national epidemic. If your dog develops sudden vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and acts very tired, have them examined by a veterinarian immediately. Early treatment seems to improve survival chances. Ask about Circovirus and if your veterinarian has observed cases with these clinical signs. If so, have them contact their state veterinary office at once. If you kennel your canine, have a frank conversation about any illnesses and what steps the facility takes to ensure safety and sterility. Pay particular attention to fecal wastes. Feces may be key in the transmission of this virus. This is yet another reason immediately picking up your dog’s poop is a good idea.

Finally, while I don’t want to needlessly spread alarm, I encourage pet parents to monitor social media and veterinary news outlets for further updates. There’s going to be a lot of misinformation, sensationalism, and false blame on this in the upcoming weeks. If you have any questions or concerns or read somewhere that pickle juice cures Circovirus, please ask your vet before taking any action or sharing questionable news. You can bet I’ll be watching this situation closely and will provide any new information as it develops.

My hope is that this viral outbreak will prove to be a rare and isolated incident. History teaches us that truly devastating viruses only appear every few decades. I’m confident that in today’s social media savvy world, even remote and sporadic cases will be broadcast and we’ll be able to prevent widespread illness. My secret hope is we’ll determine canine Circovirus is really a wimpy virus and reduce it to another trivia question future veterinary students will face on their medical boards, not in their exam rooms. Until then, be vigilant and report any unusual illnesses to your veterinarian.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

5 Things You Need to Know About the “Circovirus Outbreak”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang | Pet360.com

"A scary new disease is killing dogs!" proclaims headlines across the country. "A new virus is emerging and dogs are dying. Doctors are baffled." Within the space of just a few short days, fanned by the flames of fear and robust social media involvement, the dire news of circovirus spread….well, like a virus.

The only problem is, as so often happens in these sorts of cases, rumor became fact long before the actual facts were known. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is now trying its best to do damage control and ensure the veterinary and dog owning community gets accurate information, but the genie's out of the bottle. So what really happened?

A number of dogs staying at an Ohio boarding/ doggie daycare facility came down with severe signs of disease. Three of those dogs died. The dogs initially presented with bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy, but in several cases progressed to vasculitis. Vasculitis causes inflammation of the blood vessels, and is overall a very serious problem.

Recalled pet food was quickly eliminated as the cause. Because the initial signs resembled clinical signs sometimes seen with Salmonella, people speculated the illnesses might be related to a recent pet food recall. Within a day, records showed the food used at the facility was not involved in the recall.

The local veterinary community acted proactively. Realizing this cluster of unusual cases could indicate a larger problem, veterinarians treating the cases quickly reached out to each other, to specialists, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Circovirus was not found in all of the cases. Again, the idea that these dogs died specifically from circovirus is premature. Samples from three infected dogs were sent to UC Davis in California, the nearest facility with the ability to test for this virus. Of the three samples, only one has tested positive for circovirus.

We still don't know what caused these dogs to become ill. We do know circovirus was present in at least some of the dogs, and we do know that in pigs the presence of this virus can worsen the effects of other types of pathogens, which is why everyone is so nervous. What we do not yet know is whether or not this virus is directly responsible for disease in these dogs.

But if the fact remains that dogs got very ill and died, shouldn't we worry? Why does this matter? It matters because the rush to blame circovirus could lead us to miss another problem, if one exists. Perhaps a vector borne illness, like a tick-borne disease. Or maybe another, different virus. Or maybe it's circovirus in conjunction with a second pathogen. Rushing to judgment matters because finding the correct answer is vital if we want to really understand what caused these dogs to die. Rest assured that the finest infectious disease specialists in the nation are working hard to identify the cause, and we will all share the information as soon as we have it.

For now, I encourage everyone to take a breath and hang tight. Remember, the number of affected dogs so far is very small, and I hope it remains that way. It very well might. In the meantime, owners should be aware of the clinical signs these dogs exhibited: vomiting, lethargy, bloody diarrhea, and a rapid worsening of their symptoms. Prompt veterinary attention was key to those dogs who survived. If anything about your dog causes you concern, please do call your vet right away. That is what they are there for.

Have you heard about canine circovirus? Do you think the media did an accurate job in getting the word out?

SPECIAL REPORT: Dangerous virus killing dogs

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A new virus is striking dogs in the middle of the country, and if not treated, it has the potential to kill an infected animal in just days. There's no vaccine. In other animals, it's been highly infectious, and scientists still can't say with certainty how it's transmitted. What is certain is this disease could be deadly, especially in kennel settings. Even though cases have been limited to just three states so far - California, Michigan, and Ohio – some Richmond Vets fear it's just a matter of time until it makes its way here.

Dr. Olivia Pan is keeping up with all of the latest information for when it does, because early study results are frightening.

"They're suspecting the dogs can bleed into their cavities, their chest into their abdomen, and those are some of the more serious ones that would bleed to their deaths," said Dr. Pan.

It's called circovirus. Vets have been aware of it for years but mainly in pig populations - it can decimate a hog farm in just a week. Certain pet birds also seem susceptible, especially parrots, parakeets and cockatoos. What's new is, the virus has never made the jump to dogs - until now.

At The Pet Spot, a kennel in a suburb of Cincinnati, three dogs died and a fourth became ill in just three days, all suffering from symptoms "consistent" with circovirus. Tests weeks later at the University of California on blood and tissue samples of these dogs and others suspected with the virus from Michigan weren't conclusive that circovirus was responsible for the deaths, since the infected dogs also had other health issues. One vet told me, "it (circovirus) was likely a contributing factor.

For the owner at the Pet Spot in Ohio, the deaths of 3 dogs in one week has been hard both personally and professionally.

"We consider this the loss of three of our family members," said Jeff Voelpel. "We'll always continue to ensure that we do things the right way, and make sure we've taken every step to ensure a clean, safe environment."

One of the main problems with circovirus is there's no easy way to diagnosis it. Since it can kill so quickly, sending blood samples off to a lab for testing just isn't practical.

"There's no way of us knowing it's the circovirus or not until you do all of these tests, and by then - you don't get the results back for weeks," said Dr. Pan.

Doctors do know that dogs who are frequently boarded or spend time in "play situations" with large groups of other dogs would be at greatest risk. The bad news is, there's no vaccine to prevent it - no known cure - and to make matters worse, it's still not clear how the virus is spread.

That fact is especially frightening for kennel or doggie daycare operators responsible for a large number of dogs.

"Definitely, we do have a fear that all of these dogs are going to get sick at the same time," said Dr. Pan.

Since the disease was only first detected in dogs in 2012, the symptoms aren't set in stone.

Here's what we know: many of the infected dogs had severe inflammation in their intestinal tract, and exhibited varying degrees of lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your dog exhibits those symptoms, visit the vet immediately, but it's believed that some dogs can be carriers and not symptomatic.

Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.

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