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Northern Michigan dogs are dying from a mysterious illness

State officials are urging dog owners to be careful, after dozens of dogs died from an illness similar to canine parvovirus. (Photo: Sean MacEntee via Flickr Creative Commons)
Sean MacEntee
Flickr Creative Commons
State officials are urging dog owners to be careful, after dozens of dogs died from an illness similar to canine parvovirus. (Photo: Sean MacEntee via Flickr Creative Commons)

Dozens of dogs in Northern Michigan have died from a highly contagious illness very similar to canine parvovirus.

State officials are looking into the disease and are telling dog owners to stay cautious.

The illness was first detected in Otsego County in June where it has already killed around 30 dogs, many within three to five days of showing symptoms.

Officials are assuming it's an extreme case of canine parvovirus, which is preventable with proper vaccinations. These shots are given every three to four weeks from the time a puppy is six weeks old until they are at least 16 weeks of age.

Melissa FitzGerald, director of the Otsego County Animal Shelter, said phone calls have only increased since the illness was discovered.

“I'm telling everybody if you don't know what properly vaccinated is, or if you don't know if your pet is properly vaccinated, call a veterinarian,” she said.

FitzGerald said it does not appear that the illness is affecting certain breeds more than others.

The sickness has no impact on humans but is capable of causing infections in wild canines such as coyotes and wolves, and other wild animals, including foxes, raccoons and skunks, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Michigan State University are investigating the reports.

The investigation is in its early stages yet, but some early samples submitted to the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory were positive for canine parvovirus, state Veterinarian Nora Wineland said in a news release.

"However, there are more results pending and more to be learned,” Wineland said. “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.”

MDARD is encouraging all dog owners to take steps to protect their animals:

  • Keep up with routine vaccinations (especially for those living in or traveling with pets to the northern Lower Peninsula) by ensuring dogs/puppies are vaccinated against canine parvovirus, rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis.
  • Having dogs and puppies fully vaccinated before interacting with other animals will help to keep them healthy and safe.
  • Keep dogs/puppies at home and away from other dogs if they are exhibiting any signs of illness and contact your veterinarian.
  • Be sure to clean up after your pet when you’re walking them out in public.

The veterinary diagnostics lab at Michigan State University says the outbreak is expected to stay confined to middle and northern Michigan.
"We are working very hard to get additional information," said MSU lab director Kimberly Dodd. "Really the most important strategy to date is for pet owners to vaccinate their pets."

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.