Virus Sickening, Even Killing Dogs


Could a new virus be sickening, even killing dogs? It’s certainly possible that the report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer is correct. Emerging viruses appear all the time, and may target a single species. Dogs in the Akron-Canton and Cincinnati areas have fallen ill with similar symptoms over the past three weeks, and half have died, state officials said.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) received the first confirmation of a case of the virus, called circovirus, in one of these dogs, said spokeswoman Erica Hawkins. More testing of samples from the other seven dogs who have fallen ill in the state is ongoing, she said, and it’s too soon to know if they all had the same disease.

Of the eight dogs who have had the severe illness over the past few weeks, four have died. Symptoms included vasculitis (which is a destruction of the body’s blood vessels), severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fluid buildup around the lungs, as well as rapid heart rate and weakness. Four cases were first reported in the Cincinnati area, followed by four in Canal Fulton, near Canton.

No new cases have come up since, though there have been many calls from concerned pet owners, Hawkins said.

Ohio State pathologists have sent samples taken from the ill and dead dogs to a lab at the University of California-Davis to test them for circovirus. A one-year-old beagle with circovirus died in California in the spring, and the school’s lab has the equipment to test for the virus, which had not previously been diagnosed in dogs but is common in pigs.

A study detailing the California case was released in April in the Centers for Disease Control’s online journal “Emerging Infectious Diseases.”

Dr. Melanie Butera, a veterinarian at Elm Ridge Animal Hospital in Canal Fulton, treated all four of the Akron-area dogs, who were extremely ill with very similar symptoms, she said. The two worst cases came in collapsed and weak, with high heart rates and fluid around their lungs. One of the dogs died. All were around under five years and older than puppies. Oddly, all the dogs came in ill at about the same time, though none of the owners knew one another.

Veterinarians in the Cincinnati area who treated the four dogs sent samples to Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine for testing, said public relations director Melissa Weber. Tests for salmonella and other obvious causes of the illnesses came back negative, she said, and the ODA is awaiting further test results.

The department has not received any additional calls from the Cincinnati area since that time, Hawkins said.

Health officials and veterinarians said that early intervention and proactive treatment seems to be more successful than those who waited, even if it means visiting an emergency clinic.

Still, there is no reason to panic. Even dogs experiencing the described symptoms likely have an another explanation for their illness.