Some angst is brewing amongst dog lovers because of a newly discovered infectious agent called canine circovirus. This angst is justified as circovirus is suspected to be the cause of recent severe illness and even death in some dogs.
When I first heard about canine circovirus I thought back to an email I received three to four months ago from a reader inquiring about dogs in her area (I cannot recall where she lives) who were reported to be dying from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE). I responded by telling her that dogs affected by the disease veterinarians refer to as HGE are expected to fully recover, assuming they receive appropriate medical treatment. I raised the notion that perhaps these dogs had something other than the traditional version of HGE. Looking back, I’m wondering if this “something else” was canine circovirus.
What is circovirus?
Circovirus have been around for a long time, but documentation of this microorganism in dogs is new. Pig farmers are all too familiar with circovirus which causes poor growth, a “wasting away” syndrome, and death in piglets. Circovirus can also cause disease in a variety of bird species.
While the circovirus found in dogs resembles pig circovirus, they are not identical. This canine version was first discovered in June, 2012. At that time it was not determined to be a cause of disease, simply an incidental finding in healthy dogs.
In April, 2013 circovirus was first reported as a possible cause of illness in dogs by researchers in California. Most recently, circovirus was found in the feces of a number of sick dogs in Ohio. These dogs had severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and lethargy. Some of these dogs passed away in spite of aggressive therapy.
Although circovirus has been isolated from apparently healthy dogs, the consensus now is that this virus is very likely a “player” in the severe gastrointestinal illnesses reported in California and Ohio. Whether the symptoms these dogs exhibited were due solely to the circovirus or the virus acting in conjunction with another microorganism is unknown.
Route of infection
The route of canine infection isn’t known with certainty, but it is suspected that circovirus is spread directly between dogs via feces or vomited material. Circovirus in pigs can be spread through respiratory secretions. This route of contagion has not been ruled out in dogs. Some of the Ohio dogs who tested positive for circovirus were recently boarded or spent time at doggie daycare.
What should you do?
Symptoms thought to be caused by canine circovirus are lethargy and severe vomiting and diarrhea. These are nonspecific symptoms, meaning they can occur with a wide assortment of medical issues. If your dog has severe vomiting and diarrhea, it is important to get your veterinarian involved. Prompt treatment prevents dehydration and hastens recovery, whatever the underlying disease.
If your dog is a frequent flyer at a boarding kennel, doggie daycare facility, or dog park I encourage you to be just as “heads up” as you normally would be to protect your dog’s health. Inspect the facility for cleanliness, proper sanitation measures, and the presence of healthy appearing animals.
The bottom line
A new canine virus has been discovered and our current understanding of its behavior and significance is very limited. Mores studies of canine circovirus are in progress and I am confident we will have much more certain information in the near future. For now, no need to do anything more than take good care of your dogs- something I get the feeling you are already doing! I will keep you apprised of any new developments.
Prior to this, what have you heard about canine circovirus?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.