SPECIAL REPORT: Dangerous virus killing dogs

12 Investigates: Dangerous virus killing dogs
Published: Nov. 13, 2013 at 1:37 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2013 at 8:26 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A new virus is striking dogs in the middle of the country, and if not treated, it has the potential to kill an infected animal in just days. There's no vaccine. In other animals, it's been highly infectious, and scientists still can't say with certainty how it's transmitted. What is certain is this disease could be deadly, especially in kennel settings. Even though cases have been limited to just three states so far - California, Michigan, and Ohio – some Richmond Vets fear it's just a matter of time until it makes its way here.

Dr. Olivia Pan is keeping up with all of the latest information for when it does, because early study results are frightening.

"They're suspecting the dogs can bleed into their cavities, their chest into their abdomen, and those are some of the more serious ones that would bleed to their deaths," said Dr. Pan.

It's called circovirus. Vets have been aware of it for years but mainly in pig populations - it can decimate a hog farm in just a week. Certain pet birds also seem susceptible, especially parrots, parakeets and cockatoos. What's new is, the virus has never made the jump to dogs - until now.

At The Pet Spot, a kennel in a suburb of Cincinnati, three dogs died and a fourth became ill in just three days, all suffering from symptoms "consistent" with circovirus. Tests weeks later at the University of California on blood and tissue samples of these dogs and others suspected with the virus from Michigan weren't conclusive that circovirus was responsible for the deaths, since the infected dogs also had other health issues.  One vet told me, "it (circovirus) was likely a contributing factor.

For the owner at the Pet Spot in Ohio, the deaths of 3 dogs in one week has been hard both personally and professionally.

"We consider this the loss of three of our family members," said Jeff Voelpel. "We'll always continue to ensure that we do things the right way, and make sure we've taken every step to ensure a clean, safe environment."

One of the main problems with circovirus is there's no easy way to diagnosis it. Since it can kill so quickly, sending blood samples off to a lab for testing just isn't practical.

"There's no way of us knowing it's the circovirus or not until you do all of these tests, and by then - you don't get the results back for weeks," said Dr. Pan.

Doctors do know that dogs who are frequently boarded or spend time in "play situations" with large groups of other dogs would be at greatest risk. The bad news is, there's no vaccine to prevent it - no known cure - and to make matters worse, it's still not clear how the virus is spread.

That fact is especially frightening for kennel or doggie daycare operators responsible for a large number of dogs.

"Definitely, we do have a fear that all of these dogs are going to get sick at the same time," said Dr. Pan.

Since the disease was only first detected in dogs in 2012, the symptoms aren't set in stone.

Here's what we know: many of the infected dogs had severe inflammation in their intestinal tract, and exhibited varying degrees of lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your dog exhibits those symptoms, visit the vet immediately, but it's believed that some dogs can be carriers and not symptomatic.

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