Guidance offered as officials investigate illness affecting Michigan dogs

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Ellie Kindt takes her dog Buddy for a walk in Alpena on Tuesday. Local animal health officials are urging dog owners to vaccinate their dogs and keep them away from other dogs until more is known about a canine parvovirus-like illness that has led to the death of dozens of dogs in northern Michigan.

ALPENA — Officials are urging local dog owners to take preventative action to help protect their pets from a canine parvovirus-like illness that has led to the deaths of dozens of dogs in northern Michigan.

State animal health officials say dog owners should make sure their pets are up to date on vaccinations and limit their pets’ exposure to other dogs. It is not recommended that dogs be allowed to intermingle with other dogs from outside of their homes, officials say.

As of Tuesday, at least 20 dogs in Otsego County have died from the illness, the Otsego County Animal Shelter said in a statement Friday, and another 30 dogs have died from parvovirus-type illnesses in Clare County.

Young and unvaccinated canines are more at risk of dying from the illness, officials say.

Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that spreads if a dog comes in contact with an infected dog or its feces. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and a loss of appetite, which are also primary symptoms of parvo.

On Tuesday, the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory said some samples have shown animals were infected with parvo. Others have not, which has prompted more investigative work into the sickness.

The disease is not contagious to other types of animals or humans, MSU officials say.

Local veterinarians, animal shelters, and animal control officials are monitoring the most recent developments in the spreading illness and taking action to protect dogs.

Daniele Knight, a veterinarian at Switzer Veterinary Clinic in Alpena, said the positive tests administered at MSU and the discrepancy between dogs testing negative at veterinary clinics or animal shelters, may be due to the kind of test administered.

The lab uses highly accurate PCR tests, while shelters and clinics tend to use less sensitive rapid tests.

Rapid tests are particularly prone to false negatives late in an infection, which is when many of the animals were tested, Knight said.

Knight compared the accuracy of tests to at-home COVID-19 tests and tests done in clinics and doctors offices.

So far, Knight said, there haven’t been any suspected parvo cases or unusual illnesses coming into the office. She said people should get their dogs fully vaccinated, keep them away from other dogs, and utilize their pets’ healthcare providers if there are concerns or questions about their dog’s health.

She said the people who need to bring their dog for an appointment should rest easy because there are procedures already implemented that help keep the animals safe. She said after each animal is treated, the examination rooms are disinfected with a chemical that can kill the parvo virus.

Currently Switzer’s lobby is closed and staff retrieves the pet from an owner’s vehicle and returns it when the medical appointment is over.

“Our clinic operates as any animal, at any time can be contagious and every day we take the same precautions,” she said.

Alpena County Animal Control Officer Michelle Reid said she has been staying up to date on the latest developments on the illness and its spread.

She said right now there are more questions than answers, but assured residents the state, local animal care partners, and others are working together to prevent an outbreak and to avoid the deaths of pets.

Still, she said, there is only so much they can do until more is learned about the illness, how it spreads, and how it can be treated.

Reid said she would like to see local dog parks closed and the way the animal control shelter handles meet-and-greets may change. She said sometimes people bring their dogs to the shelter to see if they get along with an animal that is being considered for adoption.

Now, Reid said, that practice may have to be altered or eliminated for the time being.

“It is hard to protect the animals from something that you don’t know what it is,” Reid said. “We have good protocols in place and that will likely help us, but until we know exactly what we are dealing with, it is really hard to put specific protocols into place.”


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