Dog Circovirus: How Concerned Should Dog Owners Be?

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You can help prevent disease in your pets, from the oldest to youngest, by cleaning up after them. Image by pippalou

In the fall of 2013 a number of dogs in Ohio and California died showing symptoms that included vomiting and diarrhea.

Researchers found a new virus, dog circovirus(DogCV) in some of those cases.

Dog owners who remember the early years of the Canine Parvovirus outbreak were likely very concerned that another deadly virus was on the horizon.

As of spring 2014, however, there has been no significant increase in deaths linked to DogCV. At present it appears that circovirus may have been just one contributing factor in those deaths – but research into this virus continues.

Why Dog Circovirus Might Not be the Sole Cause of Illness or Death

Almost 70% of the dogs who became sick and tested positive for circovirus were also infected with other viruses and/or bacteria known to cause similar symptoms.

In pigs, where scientists have studied a similar porcine circovirus for a number of years, co-infection with other viruses and bacteria is known to increase the risk of active disease. Co-infection tends to be synergistic, particularly in the digestive system where one bacteria or virus may cause irritation or inflammation, allowing other viruses and bacteria to take hold more easily.

DogCV has also been found in the feces of other dogs not showing any symptoms of illness, which could mean that, as is often the case with viruses, the overall health status of the dog plays a part in whether he or she develops symptoms. In addition, the virus was not found in all of the dogs who died.

Research on Dog Circovirus at UCDavis School of Veterinary Medicine

Although science has known about pig and bird circoviruses for some time, and they are well studied, the canine virus is newly discovered. How similar it is to these other circoviruses is not clear yet. Work begun at University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine should increase our understanding of the virus over time.

Is circovirus passed directly from dog to dog? No one knows. Image by Ina Meyer.

Is circovirus passed directly from dog to dog? No one knows. Image by Ina Meyer.

But researchers there caution that, at this time, we don’t know enough about how the virus works to conclude that it caused the deaths of the dogs in Ohio or California. Although vasculitis, or inflammation of the blood vessels, and severe hemorrhagic gastroenteritis have been linked to DogCV, and these symptoms were present in the dogs from Ohio, only one of the three samples from these dogs tested positive for DogCV leading to the conclusion that it may be a contributory factor but not the sole cause.

When a Dog Shows Symptoms of Vomiting and Diarrhea

Many things can cause vomiting and diarrhea, so don’t panic if these symptoms occur. Dogs tend to test their world via their mouths, so ingesting things that could cause these symptoms is not unusual. A single instance of vomiting or diarrhea may not be cause for concern, particularly if you know your dog has gotten into something he shouldn’t have.

But even you can’t determine what is causing the problem, it is important to treat ongoing symptoms before secondary problems such as dehydration and lethargy occur. Consult your dog’s regular veterinarian should be consulted; he or she will have your pet’s  full history, and can help determine the best course of action.

What is the Risk of Exposure for Dogs?

As always, common sense can help dog owners decide how to react to the finding of this new virus. Given that researchers have found DogCV in feces, cleaning up should become a routine. This will have secondary benefits of reducing exposure to other viruses and bacteria passed through the GI tract.

Here are a few things you should take into account when assessing the individual risk of exposure of your pets to any disease:

  • How old is your dog? Very young and very old animals are at higher risk for contracting disease.
  • Does your dog have other health issues? Some other conditions medical conditions can reduce general immunity.
  • Is your dog taking any medications? Anti-inflammatory medications, for example?

A discussion with your veterinarian will help in evaluating these risks.

Dog Circo Virus: No Recent Cases

Given that there have not been further reports of similar cases since fall, veterinarians hope that DogCV will not prove to be a significant disease. In the meantime, good hygiene and attention to your dog’s overall health are the best preventive measures you can take to keep your pet healthy.

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