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A New Virus Threatens Dogs: Circovirus

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Posted September 08, 2013 in A Vet's Life

For more from Dr. Ernie Ward, find him on Facebook or at


Pet food recalls can really confuse pet owners. Potentially tainted pet food was initially blamed for the death of three dogs that died while boarding at a Norwood, Ohio boarding and grooming facility. Owners of the deceased dogs were upset and rightfully demanded answers from veterinary health officials. What happened next is the stuff of a science fiction horror story, only it’s happening right now.

The recalled dog food was quickly eliminated as a culprit by Ohio Department of Agriculture and The Ohio State University. Officials suspected a viral outbreak at the boarding facility. Initial tests for all major pathogens and diseases soon returned negative. Poisons, toxic chemicals and injury were also ruled out. Disease experts were facing a diagnostic dead-end. Before the deaths could be chalked up to bad luck, social media helped uncovered some surprising clues and kicked off a nationwide detective hunt.

Awareness by media and social media reports led other Ohio veterinarians to report similar suspicious dog deaths. Canine patients were vomiting, experiencing bloody diarrhea, had high hematocrit values (a blood test), vasculitis (damage to blood vessels), fluid in the lungs, and profound weakness. Many died within days despite aggressive treatment. Other dogs survived after being severely ill. The Ohio state veterinary pathology lab couldn’t find a cause. August 2013 was turning into a deadly month for many unfortunate Ohio dogs. The tragedy was that no one knew why.

As the story spread on Facebook and Twitter, infectious disease expert veterinarians learned of the Ohio dogs and began to suspect a new type of virus might be to blame. The problem was, only one lab possessed the tools to diagnose the virus and it was in California. Veterinarians believed a relatively common type of virus found in pigs and birds known as Circovirus now posed a threat to dogs. An April 2013 paper published in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases described similar symptoms in a sick California dog. Sadly, the California dog died after being kenneled for three weeks and contracting the virus. Other comparable deaths were investigated and canine Circovirus identified. Could this new dog virus be killing the Ohio dogs? 

Initial lab results confirmed Circovirus in the first Ohio dog tested. Results are pending on other dogs with similar symptoms in the Cincinnati and Canton areas. Of eight dogs reported

Related symptoms: 

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.