An investigation is underway regarding mysterious deaths of dogs that have been walked in public areas of Sandringham, the Queen’s 20 000 acre estate in Norfolk. Gastrointestinal disease, consisting of vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy, has afflicted an unknown number of dogs. One area veterinarian reports five deaths and four dogs with serious illness. No cause has been identified, but it’s unclear how much testing has been done to date. There was also a cluster of sick dogs last year, but that outbreak was written off as a one-time event caused by a virus.

Outbreaks like this can have a wide variety of causes, including viruses, bacteria, parasites or toxins. Determining the cause of a diarrhea outbreak is often difficult, because of the numerous potential pathogens/toxins, significant gaps in knowledge about what’s normally part of the dog’s intestinal bacterial population, and limitations of existing diagnostic tests.

(Another possibility is that this isn’t really an outbreak, but rather increased reporting of disease that has always been there. I doubt that’s the case here, but it is a possibility – dogs get sick all the time. If the baseline level of gastrointestinal illness is just now being scrutinized, and public awareness is increasing because of news reports, you can get a spike in cases that have nothing to do with an outbreak.)

The Animal Health Trust has been called in to investigate. This will presumably involve several approaches, including getting more detailed information about the number of sick dogs, identifying any common links among sick dogs, comparing activities of sick dogs with those of healthy dogs, and testing of feces for various potential causes of disease.

There’s no word about whether the Queen’s corgis are being restricted from the area.