SOUTH CAROLINA, USA — When a person brings home a puppy, their first vet visit is usually full of advice. Some of the most urgent warnings a vet might give are not to let the new puppy walk around on vet office or pet store floors and not to allow the puppy to meet older dogs until they finish their puppy shots. This warning is to avoid the chances of the puppy contracting canine parvovirus, a highly contagious and deadly illness. A new illness out of Michigan looks just like it, but it isn't showing up on parvovirus tests.
No cases have been reported so far in South Carolina, but dog clubs and breeders nearby have started taking precautions. The Piedmont Kennel Club is one of a few dog sports clubs in the southeast. Its based in Charlotte, NC, far from where the new illness is being spotted. Still, PKC is urging its members to proceed to shows with caution. Dog sports and dog shows often involve lots of travel, so illnesses could spread easily.
Laurel Getchell is the owner of Black Knights Coursing, a dog sports club hosting Fast CAT trials in West Columbia in September. Fast CAT is an American Kennel Club speed trial, Black Knights Coursing is holding the event with the Vizsla Club of the Carolinas.
Getchell explained that for a dog to compete in the trial coming to Columbia, they need to be one year old or older. That would usually mean that the dogs are above the age that they are susceptible to parvovirus as they are usually fully vaccinated by the time they are a year old.
If the illness is parvovirus, the Columbia trials should be safe. Parvovirus can spread through feces, and bleach is an effective way to decontaminate an area that might contain parvovirus. According to Getchell, if a dog defecates in the Fast CAT course area, the waste is immediately removed and the area is cleaned with bleach, a precaution the club always takes to keep dogs safe.
Right now, testing is still happening to determine what exactly the illness is. Veterinary tests of the animals came back negative for parvovirus according to Ostego County Animal Shelter, but necropsy samples sent to Michigan State University came back positive.
The confusion over testing is leading some, like Ostego County Animal Control and Shelter Director Melissa Fitzgerald, to believe the mystery illness may just be a new strain of parvo.
The virus was first found in Ostego County in Michigan, and at the time there were only 20 cases. All 20 affected dogs died. Since then, the number has been rising and other counties have since been affected.
In most cases, the sick dogs end up dying within 3 days of showing symptoms. The Ostego county Animal Shelter alleges that so far, dogs that are "properly vaccinated" for parvovirus are not being affected. The shelter's Facebook post also states that most of the affected dogs are puppies or elderly dogs.
Dog owners will have to wait for updates from ongoing testing of the virus to know for sure how cautious they should be with their dogs. For now, The mystery illness does have symptoms like parvovirus that pet parents should watch out for.
The American Veterinary Medical Association says that the signs of parvovirus are lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or low body temperature, vomiting, and severe diarrhea.
Parvovirus can kill a dog within 72 hours of symptom onset, but with proper treatment it has a 90% survival rate. If you notice your dog is dealing with these symptoms, the best chance of survival is to take them to a veterinarian.
Parvovirus vaccines are available at veterinary offices all over South Carolina and can help prevent the disease. According to the Ostego County Animal Shelter, it may also be effective against the mystery illness. If your dog is already vaccinated against parvovirus, you can ask your veterinarian about titer testing to see how your pet's antibodies are holding up.
Scientists aren't sure yet how the parvo-like illness is spreading, but parvovirus can spread via dog to dog contact, through feces, or through contact with a contaminated object or area. A contaminated object or area is just something that previously came into contact with an infected dog.
If you're concerned that your pet may come into contact with the parvo-like illness, experts warn that you should avoid areas with high dog traffic. You read that right, the best way to keep your dog safe is to help them stay socially distant from other dogs.
Update Aug. 25: The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has determined that the parvo-like illness is parvovirus. MDARD also confirmed that the dogs that died from the illness were not fully vaccinated, they are still investigating why parvovirus tests were giving negative results.