Photo provided - Veterinarians are asking dog owners to work closely with vets to make sure dogs are vaccinated following fears and questions about the canine parvovirus that has popped up in northern Michigan in recent weeks.

What you should know to protect dogs from parvovirus

THREE RIVERS — Dogs are man’s best friend, and owners, generally, want to keep them as safe as possible.

In the last few weeks, much has been made about a possible mysterious illness which has affected dogs that doctors from Michigan State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) in late August confirmed to be canine parvovirus.

The cases have generally affected dogs in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula that did not have a history of complete vaccination, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and there are no cases reported in St. Joseph County. However, fears and questions about parvovirus have worried Michiganders all over the state.

Michigan’s state veterinarian, Nora Wineland, said in a statement last month canine parvovirus is a severe and highly contagious disease, but that veterinary professionals have “extensive experience” with the virus and that there are ways to combat it.

“We have a highly effective vaccine available to help protect dogs from the virus. Dogs that are not fully vaccinated against this virus are the most at risk,” Wineland said. “Dog owners across Michigan must work closely with their veterinarians to ensure their dogs are appropriately vaccinated and given timely boosters to keep their pets safe and healthy. Protecting Michigan’s dogs is a team effort.”

What made these parvovirus cases a bit more complicated and mysterious at first was because point-of-care tests at veterinary offices and shelters consistently tested negative for the disease, although dogs showed symptoms suggestive of it.

“Screening tests for parvo are done to help guide immediate isolation, disinfection, and treatment protocols. While those tests are valuable in the clinical setting, they are not as sensitive as the diagnostic tests we can perform here in the laboratory,” MSU’s VDL director, Kim Dodd, said in a statement. “We continue to further characterize the virus in hopes of better understanding why those animals were testing negative on screening tests.”

Because of this, veterinarians are encouraged to pursue additional diagnostics at the MSU VDL when screening tests for canine parvovirus are negative but clinical presentation is consistent with parvovirus infection.

However, despite the discovery of these cases, MDARD says it should not cause dog owners to change how they care for pets or where and how they travel. Fully vaccinated dogs are protected against severe illness, but the importance of consulting with a veterinarian remains.

MDARD said they encourage dog owners to take a few simple steps to protect their animals:

  • Keep up with routine vaccinations by ensuring dogs/puppies are vaccinated against canine parvovirus, rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis by a veterinarian.
  • Have dogs/puppies fully vaccinated before interacting with other animals to keep them healthy and safe.
  • Keep dogs/puppies at home and away from other dogs if they are exhibiting any signs of illness and contact your veterinarian.
  • Be sure to clean up after your pet when you’re walking them in public.

MDARD also is looking to remind pet owners that parvovirus is not contagious to people or other species of domestic animals. The disease is also common in the state, and is not required to be reported to the state veterinarian’s office.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or

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