Dog deaths in Cincinnati: New virus suspected at The Pet Spot as well as newest cases in NE Ohio

CINCINNATI - The mysterious illness that killed three dogs connected to a Norwood dog care facility last month may be a new virus that is now suspected of killing another dog and sickening two others in northeast Ohio.

While tests are ongoing, the leading suspect appears to be a circovirus , previously found mainly in pigs. The first confirmation of canine circovirus in the state came last week in one of the new cases in the Canal Fulton area, between Akron and Canton, according to Erica Hawkins, communications director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Although circovirus is contagious, the cases so far appear to be isolated in the farthest corners of the state. But the news has some dog owners worried that their pets already have it because the symptoms – notably, bloody diarrhea and severe vomiting - are similar to more common dog ailments.

Locally, no more deaths or related illnesses have been reported to the agriculture department since the three dogs connected to The Pet Spot in Norwood died three weeks ago, Hawkins told WCPO. One other local dog survived the mysterious illness.

The Pet Spot owner, Jeff Voelpel, said two weeks ago that tests on the local dogs that died had ruled out just about everything related by the symptoms except circovirus. The circovirus tests results have not come back yet, Voelpel said Tuesday.

"I check every day," he said.

“Canine circovirus is newly isolated and there is very little information available about the virus, where it came from and how it spreads,” the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state Division of Animal Health, said in a release. “The limited research available shows that canine circovirus can cause vasculitis and hemorrhaging in infected dogs.”

It’s the vasculitis (inflammation of body blood vessels) that makes circovirus potentially deadly and separates it from common gastroenteritis (often caused by feeding dogs “people food") and the more serious parvovirus and hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) ,

“There are countless causes of vomiting and diarrhea in dogs, even bloody diarrhea,” Dr. Melanie Butera, the Canal Fulton veterinarian who treated the sick dogs in her area, told the Akron Beacon-Journal. “What made these cases unique is what the pathologist terms ‘acute necrotizing vasculitis.’ This is when the blood vessels become suddenly damaged and fluid begins leaking out of the vessels. Because of this, the cases I know of did not just have vomiting and bloody diarrhea, they also developed fluid around their lungs and in the abdomen.”

That can lead to hemorrhages, physiological shock and blood clots, she said.

The ODA connected Butera’s cases with the ones here and sent samples to the University of California-Davis, which diagnosed a fatal case of circovirus in a dog last spring, she said. It will be several weeks before scientists can determine if dogs from both areas died from the same illness, Hawkins said.

See a study detailing the California case at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/4/12-1390_article.htm

“The laboratory confirmation (of canine circovirus) is important because the virus is newly isolated; however, we are not prepared at this time to confirm that canine circovirus is the cause of the dog illnesses,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey.  “Because the symptoms being exhibited can also be linked to other known illnesses, additional analysis and information is needed to determine if this virus alone or in co-infection contributes to illness and death in dogs.”

Ohio State University veterinarians did a necropsy on one of dogs that died here but could not determine a cause of death, according to public relations director Melissa Weber. They sent tissue samples to the ODA for further tests, she said.

Salmonella, E.coli and most other potential bacterial causes have been ruled out.

And there is nothing to connect the dog deaths to recent dog food recalls by Procter & Gamble and Purina, Hawkins said.

“We have no reason to suspect any relationship between these illnesses and food at this time,” she said.

Ticks have also been suggested as a possible cause and transmitter, Butera said.

A local pet owner, Russell Gibson, told WCPO he thinks one of his two dogs came in contact with a toxin while boarding for a week at The Pet Spot last month. That dog became violently ill but survived; Gibson's other dog never got sick.

At this time, the ODA recommends keeping dogs away from other dogs.

It also issued a warning to pet owners and vets to be on the lookout for the symptoms, which include weight loss and lethargy.

Dog owners should contact their veterinarian immediately if they spot those symptoms and get treatment right away, but again, those don’t necessarily mean the dog has contracted a fatal disease, Hawkins noted.

“We have received dozens of calls from concerned owners, but because these symptoms can be related to other common dog illnesses, we are asking them to work through their vet to determine if the animal’s illness might be related,”

Hawkins said.

The ODA asks vets who believe they are treating dogs with similar symptoms to consult the Division of Animal Health at (614) 728-6220.

“We are working with veterinarians in the state to identify cases and with researchers in California and Kansas to help our scientists with laboratory analysis of the samples," Hawkins said. "We are asking veterinarians in the state to contact the laboratory for consultation if they have suspect cases to discuss the submission of samples.”

The Pet Spot owner said Tuesday he doesn't know what to make of the new suspicion about a circovirus.

“Honestly, I have to say no comment, because I’m not a doctor. I’m going to follow the directions of the doctors. I’m not going to speculate on what they’re going to find," Voelpel said.

“I’m glad the media is getting some of these stories out there. We need to know. The first thing I’m going to do if they say it’s circovirus is educate my customers about it.”

Because kennels are not professionally licensed or inspected in Ohio (or Kentucky), no government agency inspected The Pet Spot after the deaths.

Voelpel said two of the dead dogs were boarded at The Pet Spot two weeks before showing symptoms and had attended day care. He said the other dead dog was an “employee dog” that did not board or go to day care and had not been at The Pet Spot for more than two weeks when its symptoms appeared at the employee’s house.

After the deaths, Voelpel closed his day-care operations for 10 days for testing and sanitizing while continuing his grooming and boarding operations. He reopened the day care on Aug. 25, saying diagnostic tests had come back negative and the facility had been given a clean bill of health.

At the time, Voelpel showed WCPO a letter from MedVet, which treated the three dogs that died and others like Gibson's that became ill with similar symptoms in the same time frame.

MedVet Medical Director Amy Snyder wrote:

“We have been able to screen these patients for all the common and some less common causes of these signs. To date, all the submitted tests results have been negative and there is no definite cause.”

See the MedVet letter and test results at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/780079-the-pet-spot-medvet-letter-declares-test-results.html

While MedVet ruled out 14 possible causes, Voelpel said one diagnostic test for circovirus had not completed, but he said veterinarians did not suspect it as the cause.

Voelpel also showed WCPO a letter from Jason Taylor of P&G Pet Care, which declared that testing on the building had shown no cause for concern.

See the P&G letter and test results at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/780100-the-pet-spot-letter-from-p-amp-g.html

In the worst-case scenario, the Ohio Revised Code gives the agriculture department the authority to order a quarantine if it turns out the cause of death was a “dangerously contagious or infectious and reportable disease,” as listed in the ORC .

Although circovirus is not on the list now, the ORC says the director of agriculture may add it or any disease by executive order.

Asked what the ODA would do if tests confirm circovirus in the dog deaths connected to The Pet Spot and/or illnesses around the state, Hawkins replied:

“ODA will continue to monitor the situation and encourage veterinarians who believe they are treating dogs with similar symptoms to collect and submit fecal samples for analysis. If the situation evolves, our response likely will as well.”

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