Ohio dog disease mystery might be answered

I’ve been holding off on writing about this one for a while since it’s been unclear what’s happening, but a strange disease situation appears to be ongoing in Ohio dogs.

There’s old adage in medicine: an uncommon presentation of a common disease is much more likely than presentation of an uncommon (or new) disease.

  • aka common things happen commonly.

While this is certainly true, emerging diseases continue to just that. This one seems like it really is something new, and something to which we need to pay attention.

Reports have been coming in for a few weeks about severe and sometimes fatal gastrointestinal disease (e.g. vomiting and diarrhea), and deaths were occurring, particularly in dogs that were not treated early in disease. The usual suspects were ruled out, and eventually there was suspicion that the cause might be a circovirus.

Until recently, circovirus was only known to be a problem in pigs (where it’s a very big problem). Then, in 2012, a canine circovirus was reported in dogs in California with severe gastrointestinal disease, as well as some healthy dogs. Circovirus wasn’t proven to be the cause of illness, but it was quite suspicious that this could be a canine pathogen.

Because of the similarity in disease signs in the Ohio dogs and the ones from California, circovirus testing was done and apparently the virus has been detected.

This doesn’t mean that the virus is what's making the dogs sick. Since the virus can also be found in some healthy dogs, its role in disease is unclear. Certainly, it’s not a virus that causes disease in every dog that is exposed. So, at this point, we’re still a bit (or more than a bit) in the dark. Yet, there’s enough evidence to indicate that we need to investigate this virus, see where it is, where it’s going and figure out how to control it.

How can you protect your dog?

It’s not really clear, but basic infection control practices are probably the key at this point in time. The virus is spread through contact with feces of infected dogs.

  • If your dog is sick, keep it away from other dogs and places where other dogs go (e.g. the dog park).
  • If your dog is sick, take it to the vet. (Make sure they know why you’re coming in so that they can take appropriate precautions to isolate your dog, rather than having you hang out in the waiting room with other dogs while waiting to see the vet.)
  • Keep your dog away from sick dogs.
  • Pick up your dog’s feces. Always. Even if it’s healthy.

Nothing fancy or really anything beyond what people should normally be doing, but this situation is a good reminder of why we should use basic infection control practices routinely.

I haven’t heard of any concerns about this disease in Canada, but rapid investigation and communication are important, so any concerns about possible cases will hopefully be sent my way.

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Catherine - September 7, 2013 6:54 AM

This story makes me very sad. There are some people in my (suburban) neighborhood that do not pick up after their dogs. Taking a dog out for a walk around here is akin to picking through a mine field.

I've become so disgusted that I've made the decision to keep my dog home (we have a large fenced yard,) and to exercise him at home (I taught him to retrieve years ago.)

It's a shame that people don't take the threat of disease seriously enough to bend down and clean up after their dogs until it's too late, probably believing that, "it will never happen to me." Wrong.

The late Dr. Leon F. Whitney, DVM, in his book, The Complete Book of Dog Care, circa 1985 (revised by his son, the late Dr. George D. Whitney, DVM,) said, on pages 98 and 99, "In a dog run, sanitation can keep a pet in sound health, whereas the lack of it may be responsible for its death," and, "too much care cannot be exerted in gathering stools."

Thank you very much for this article.

dolores dulaney - September 11, 2013 11:17 PM

I only wish I had found this article prior to Aug. 31, 2013. My 19yo chihuahua may still be alive..he was healthy even tho having several surgeries. The last at Cornell in NY was a stent inplanted in his trachea to stop tracheal collapse. He was doing really well, I had been away most of fri. the 30th..upon returning the boys were hungary. They ate all their wet food with pieces of baked chicken,their usual, with no prob. noted. Two am the 19 yo barks wanted out of bed usually for a drink. He stayed out of bed about an hr., barked wanted back in bed, half hr or so he vomited white mucus he had done this before once in a while so I paid no mind, put him back off the bed, cleaned up and went in the living rm with him. Short while later I notice sm. amt. of feces, not diarrha but soft stool. He is passing gas which is strange, goes to the back door and groans..I pick him up wrap in a towel and rock him for a while. He vomits again lg amt. of white mucus. I decide then to get ready to go to vet. but he dos'nt open until 8am so we are in parking lot waiting for 1 hr. Vet takes us right in but by 10am I had to have him end baby boys life as he was in so much pain and was slowly dying. Who would have suspected white mucus would be a sign to go immediatly to the ER. My heart is broken...

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