Archive for the ‘Medical Issues’ Category

Chattanooga Zoo chimpanzees advancing understanding of heart issues

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

ChimpanzeeChattanooga Zoo has lost two chimpanzees to heart disease, and veterinarian Tony Ashley is working with Memorial Health System’s Chattanooga Heart Institute to learn more about the issue. The zoo’s chimpanzees undergo an echocardiogram annually as part of their physical exam, and the work is part of the Zoo Atlanta-based Great Ape Heart Project. Cardiologist Bill Warren says he is seeing striking similarities in disease between humans and apes. The Washington Times/The Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) – The camels paid no mind as the bulky white computer cart rumbled past their pen on a recent afternoon.

And the African spur-thighed tortoises barely lifted their wrinkly heads to acknowledge the ultrasound machine as it rolled into a bamboo thicket and entered the Gombe Forest.

But in a cavernlike back room at the Chattanooga Zoo, Goliath knew something was afoot in his domain.

And he didn’t like it one bit.

As a sedative-laced dart hit the 38-year-old chimpanzee’s skin, his powerful shrieks echoed through the building, until his eyes slowly closed and his head slumped to his chest.

Finally, when the anesthetic had lulled Goliath to sleep – his fingers gently curled at his side – four zoo staff members wrapped him in a blanket and hoisted his 154-pound frame over to a folding table covered in a flowered sheet.

There Eric Smith, an echocardiographer with Memorial Health System, leaned over the reluctant patient and rubbed some ultrasound gel on the chimp’s hairy barrel chest, as cardiologist Dr. Bill Warren readied the ultrasound machine.

The slice of screen suddenly lit up with the steady throb of muscle. A gushing sound filled the room – sound waves tracking the velocity of blood flow. And as the ape’s chest rose and fell with his breath, colorful lines spiked and fell across the screen:

Goliath’s heartbeat.

“His heart has the same measurements and valve structures as the human heart,” explained Warren. “If you had shown us pictures without telling us that it was a chimpanzee, we wouldn’t have known the difference.”

That’s why zoo veterinarian Dr. Tony Ashley first reached out to Memorial’s Chattanooga Heart Institute three years ago.

Hank – Chattanooga’s famous chimpanzee and the zoo’s former mascot – had recently died of heart disease, without showing any clear symptoms. Ashley wanted to introduce more preventive measures with the rest of the zoo’s chimps.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans living in captivity. Three months ago another Chattanooga Zoo chimp, Annie, also died of heart complications. She was 28 years old.

Ashley’s skill with the animals doesn’t extend to the specificity of cardiology. But he knew an echocardiogram used on humans would be just as revealing for chimps. Such tests have become more common at zoos.

“I called the hospital and said, ‘I’d like to conduct an echocardiogram on a chimpanzee,’” Ashley remembers. “I got passed around until I was talking to the hospital’s CEO. I don’t think they really knew what to do with that statement.”

Goliath’s echo is now the third test performed by Warren and Smith at the Chattanooga Zoo, as part of a partnership between the two organizations that Warren calls “a public service.”

While the two have performed hundreds of such tests on humans, it hasn’t lessened the strangeness of working on the powerful apes.

“The first time, the chimp actually growled while we were doing the test,” said Warren. “Maybe it was my stomach. Either way, it was a little unnerving.”

The Chattanooga chimps’ initial echocardiograms have been submitted to a database with the Great Ape Heart Project based at Zoo Atlanta. The project is a national effort to investigate cardiovascular disease in great apes in hopes of curbing the number of such deaths.

So far, reports have shown remarkable similarities in how heart disease afflicts both apes and humans, Warren said.

Now the echocardiogram has become part of the chimps’ annual physical exams. As Warren and Smith examined Goliath’s heart Wednesday, Ashley and the other technicians worked quickly to measure Goliath’s height, collect his blood and conduct a TB test. Another worker swiftly clipped his fingernails and toenails.

Goliath’s heart looked good, said Warren, and the group finished up just as Goliath began to stir. Quickly, the zoo workers detached him from the mechanism and gently moved him to a bed of hay.

And before the chimp awoke from his slumber, the ultrasound machine had been whisked out of the ape den, past the turtles and the camels, and back to more hospitable territory.


VA-certified service dogs receive unlimited access to veterinary care

Friday, January 31st, 2014
service dogsThe U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program and Trupanion will cover 100 percent of veterinary bills for eligible dogs.

Jan 23, 2014
By: Julie Scheidegger

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), in conjunction with Trupanion, will launch the U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program Jan. 27. The program will allow U.S. veterans with certified service dogs unlimited access to veterinary care. The program enables Trupanion to pay 100 percent of veterans’ certified service dogs’ veterinary bills.

The VA hopes the program will ease the financial stress veterans experience providing veterinary care for their animals. Trupanion says it’s a “win-win-win” opportunity for dogs, veterans and veterinarians. “Veterans and veterinarians no longer have to worry about the cost of the treatment, giving veterinarians the ability to do what they do best—care for pets,” a Trupanion release states.

A spokesman for Trupanion says execution of the program will be simple: “All veterinarians have to do is send us the bill.” Veterinarians can opt to be paid up front as well.

“Whether it’s a regular veterinary practice or an emergency hospital in the middle of the night—they can call us at any time,” the spokesperson says. “They then just need to e-mail or fax the bill to us and we can pay them directly through Vet Direct Pay, a system that allows them to receive direct payment. They can also request reimbursement. … In that case they send us the bill and let us know how and when they want to be paid. We can even pay them over the phone if they wish as soon as the treatment is over and before the veteran walks out of the building.”

The VA will provide a list of the certified service dogs eligible for the program to Trupanion. Each dog will have a tag with a policy number created by Trupanion similar to the ones current policyholders wear. “All [veterans] have to do is show that to their veterinarian and the veterinarian can rest assured Trupanion will pay the bill,” Trupanion’s spokesperson says.

Veterans who request a service dog and qualify according to a VA evaluation do not pay for the dog or the associated training. For more information on the Veterans Health Administration’s guide and service dog benefits, go to Trupanion has a two-year contract with the VA for the U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program. For more information or if you have questions about the program, call Trupanion at (855) 482-0163.

Service dog recovering after surgery; veteran anxiously awaiting her return

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

CTService dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and one pint-sized Chihuahua mix is deeply missed by her owner as she convalesces at Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen, Ill., after back surgery. The dog, named Belle, developed a spinal disc extrusion that left her hind legs paralyzed on Thanksgiving, but she is slowly regaining the use of her legs after surgery. Her owner, Vietnam veteran Gary Jordan, says he misses Belle and hopes to have her home soon because she comforts him and helps him relate better to people. Chicago Tribune (tiered subscription model)

By Taylor W. Anderson, Chicago Tribune reporterJanuary 15, 2014

Vietnam veteran Gary Jordan is missing one of his most important troops: she’s a 3-year-old Chihuahua mix named Belle who’s trained to help him deal with his severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 69-year-old is coping while Belle — a service dog trained through a Chicago non-profit that since 2010 has paired dogs with vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related brain injuries — rehabilitates from a spine injury that paralyzed her on Thanksgiving Day.

“How am I doing without her? Not well,” Jordan said. “Because she’s my service dog, and we’ve been with each other since February.”

Jordan has been driving several times a week from his apartment in Markham to Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen to see Belle, who is learning to use her back legs again at the clinic after surgery. Typically, the two spend every moment of every day together.

Jordan and Belle are a team put together by War Dogs Making It Home, a charity that rescues dogs from animal shelters and matches them with veterans who need help.

“We save two lives at a time: one dog and one veteran,” said Eva Braverman, the agency’s president.

The dogs are trained to sense when its owner is stressed and comfort them.

Braverman said Jordan called her on Thanksgiving when she was cooking dinner for her family to tell her Belle wasn’t well. One of the dog’s spinal discs was extruding, and she became paralyzed. “I literally put $4,000 on two different credit cards to pay for the surgery,” she said.

Jordan is one of about 25 teams in the War Dogs program, where veterans bring their companions for training twice weekly for the first year and once a week the second. Veterans in the program have served in almost every major foreign combat since Vietnam, Braverman said. She said about half of the owners are Vietnam veterans.

The dogs learn the behavior of their veterans, moving into action when vets show signs of anger or stress. “I have to tell her, ‘Belle, I’m all right,'” Jordan said. “If it doesn’t look like it to her, she’ll just stay there (in my arms). She don’t leave.”

Dr. Amber Ihrke works at Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen, where Belle has been resting after her surgery. The site, which opened in 2013, is the third in the group, which also has locations in Chicago and Hanover Park.

“In three weeks, she’s gone from essentially paralyzed to walking around the room,” Ihrke said as Belle tried to stand on her hind legs in an IPC room in Homer Glen.

Jordan chokes back tears while getting ready to see Belle again. Doctors say they want Belle to get back to Jordan’s home so the two can help each other, but she still has a ways to go before being able to jump into Jordan’s arms.

“She helps me stay calm where I can actually deal with people better,” Jordan said. “It just helps me be more grounded.”

Integrative Pet Care is hosting an open house Feb. 8 to showcase the new partnership with War Dogs. | Twitter: @TaylorWAnderson

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Glaucoma: A rapid, painful condition for pets

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Glaucoma, a condition in which the fluid within in the eye doesn’t drain properly, leads to painful pressure within the eye and can cause blindness within hours without treatment, according to veterinary ophthalmologists Paul Scherlie and Susan Kirschner. Symptoms in pets usually include signs of eye pain, such as rubbing the eye or exposure of the usually hidden third eyelid. Treatment varies and may not always be able to save the dog’s vision. The Oregonian (Portland)

One night in November of 2012, Silverton residents Shelly Brown and longtime partner Jim Sears noticed their German shorthaired pointer, Greta, acting strangely.

Greta was accustomed to staying in her kennel at night, but on this particular evening she kept scratching repeatedly to get out, which was very unlike her.

“She was acting really disoriented and confused, like she didn’t know where she was,” Brown says.

Then Brown noticed that a membrane in the inner corner of Greta’s eye, known as the “third eyelid,” was extended over her eyeball.

Brown and Sears took Greta to Dr. Paul Scherlie, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, who treated Greta for glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Fluid inside the eye, called the aqueous humor, typically flows through the pupil and drains through a sieve-like network located where the cornea and iris meet. In a healthy eye, the fluid is produced and drains at the same rate, creating a stable pressure.

Glaucoma occurs when the fluid cannot drain properly, causing pressure to build up and damaging the sensitive optic nerve.

In humans, glaucoma is a slow, progressive condition that can be caught with regular screenings. January happens to be National Glaucoma Awareness Month, established by a group of eye health organizations to promote more awareness of the disease.

For canines, the condition can come on suddenly and cause blindness within hours.

The rapid pressure change is extremely painful, resembling an intense sinus pressure or throbbing pain, says Dr. Susan Kirschner, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at Animal Eye Doctor in Beaverton.

There aren’t many ways to screen for or prevent the disease in dogs.

Some are more genetically prone to the condition, including American cocker spaniels, Basset hounds, Chow Chows and Siberian huskies. Locally, Scherlie has also seen it in Labradors.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals offers a database of animals certified to be free of any signs of ophthalmic disease that might be genetic.

Secondary glaucoma can be caused by disease or trauma, such as cancer in the eye or inflammation due to uveitis or cataracts.

Cats typically get this kind of glaucoma, usually a result of uveitis.

Symptoms of glaucoma

The most common sign that something is wrong with your dog’s eye is what’s called an elevated third eyelid.

“It almost looks like the eye is rolling up and out,” Kirschner says. “It’s not; it’s an optical illusion, but it’s almost always a sign of pain in the eye.”

The dog’s third eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, is a thin piece of tissue that acts as “windshield wiper” across the cornea. It’s usually not visible, but when the eye is irritated from glaucoma or a corneal ulcer, it may become elevated and cover the eye.

This is likely what Brown saw when she noticed something was wrong with Greta.

Dogs may also squint or paw at their eye, or the eyeball may become enlarged and bulge forward.


If Fido gets glaucoma in one eye, it’s only a matter of time before it develops in the other eye.

There is an eye drop that can help delay onset in the healthy eye for up to two years, but your pet will develop glaucoma eventually.

There are lots of treatment options, although Scherlie’s preferred method is simply to remove the eye and stitch the skin shut.

“The benefit to that is immediate pain relief, the stitches are out in seven to 10 days, and there’s no eye to have any future problems,” he says.

For older dogs like Greta, who aren’t good candidates for surgery, there’s the option of injecting an antibiotic into the eye. This procedure kills off the cells producing excess fluid.

Another technique is removing the eye and putting in a silicone implant to keep the eye’s shape, but the dog can still contract other diseases that affect the surface of the eye.

Helping pets adjust

Dogs that have lost most or all of their vision adjust pretty quickly, but there are some adjustments you can make at home that can help.

Stairs, decks and swimming pools pose the biggest threats for dogs that have recently lost their vision.

One thing you can do is put duct tape at the edge of a ledge, such as the bottom stair.

“It can be helpful to have some kind of sensory clue to let them know they reached the edge,” Kirschner says, “so when the dog touches that, it knows there’s a transition.”

Hillsboro resident Heather Blackwell’s Chihuahua, Teddy Bear, had his left eye removed at the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter because of glaucoma.

Teddy Bear lost an eye to glaucoma, but he doesn’t let that stop him.Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter

Blackwell has done a few things to help him adjust, such as leaving a nightlight on to make sure he doesn’t tumble down the stairs at night.

“He’s very athletic, but his depth perception is not so great,” she says.

When he approaches the sliding glass door to go outside, Blackwell puts a sticker on the glass when it’s closed so he doesn’t run into it.

Like many blind dogs, Teddy Bear doesn’t seem to notice that he’s missing an eye.

He’s very friendly – Blackwell says he “doesn’t know a stranger” – and since people are often curious about him, he’s become sort of an advocate for blind dogs.

“He’s just a little clown,” Blackwell says. “You wouldn’t know anything is wrong with him.”

Tips Box: How to help a blind pet adjust

  • Don’t treat your pet differently once it’s lost vision
  • Make sure to seal off decks, banisters, swimming pools or anything else a pet can slide through or fall down.
  • Don’t let your dog get bored. Blind dogs still want to have fun, and they no longer have the option of watching “dog TV” by gazing out the window at squirrels and passersby.
  • Dogs can memorize the layout of your home, yard and daily walk, but make sure to take them on the same route every day so they can become confident.
  • For walks, try passing a thin leash through a short length of PVC pipe. This creates a stiff leash that can help you keep your pet from running into trees or lampposts.
  • Don’t hesitate to use more verbal cues. Dogs can learn up to 200 or 300 words, so you can use language to help them navigate where to step.

–Sources: Dr. Susan Kirschner; Dr. Paul Scherlie


Cataracts occur when the lens becomes cloudy and the pupil appears white or gray. They can be caused by aging, as well as trauma or diseases like diabetes.

When severe, cataracts can generate inflammation that can lead to glaucoma. About 80 percent of untreated cataracts develop glaucoma, retinal detachment or luxated lens. These conditions usually only occur as a result of untreated cataract-associated inflammation.

Cataracts can be removed with surgery; about 90 percent of dogs that undergo cataract surgery can return to good vision.

Owners may notice gradual signs that their pet has cataracts, such as a dog having trouble seeing its ball, says Dr. Susan Kirschner, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at Animal Eye Doctor in Beaverton.

Elizabeth Olson of Rabbit Advocates discovered that her bunny, Amelia, had cataracts after noticing the animal’s eyes looked more pearly pink as opposed to their normal red color.

Olson and her husband are trying to modify Amelia’s so she doesn’t bump into things as often, and devise ways to keep her busy, such as building cardboard tunnels and putting treats at the end.

“So far, it has probably been more difficult for us to watch then for her to experience,” she says.


Blastomycosis kills quickly, so owners should be aware

Friday, November 8th, 2013

BloodhoundBlastomycosis, a fungal infection that primarily afflicts dogs in certain regions of the U.S., can kill a dog due to a severe lung infection. Even with proper treatment, the infection can be extremely difficult to clear, according to veterinarian Alicia Griffin. The initial symptoms are similar to other ailments, so owners must be sure to give veterinarians a thorough history for their dog, including any hunting or swimming activities because the fungus lives in moist soil and near water. Dayton Daily News (Ohio) (11/7)

By Jessica Heffner

Wade Rice’s dog, Chase, loved nothing more than spending time in the water. But that passion may have also cost the dog his life.

“There were no red flags at the beginning, and all of a sudden when the red flags appeared, it was too late,” said Rice, of Springfield. “Something that he loved so much eventually killed him.”

The 2-year-old golden retriever contracted a fungal infection known as blastomycosis. The dog likely inhaled spores during his time at a waterhole at Buck Creek State Park. Within two weeks of diagnosing the disorder, Rice said Chase was dead.

“I watched him take his last breath,” Rice said. “By no means did we think a healthy golden retriever, that something like this would strike him so quickly.”

The fungus grows in moist soil or vegetation, and mostly in shaded areas. Most prevalent in the summer and fall, the fungal infection can cause skin irritations, eye irritations and blindness. Once it enters the lungs, the spores multiply into large pods that can overwhelm the lungs and stop breathing, said Dr. Alicia Griffin, a veterinarian at Northside Veterinary Clinic in Springfield.

“It’s one of those region-specific diseases,” Griffin said. “It’s such a severe disease and can progress so quickly that when an owner does experience this, it is very, very difficult to treat.”

Antibiotics combat the infection, and it can take several months to treat. However, the symptoms— fatigue, rash, disinterest in food— are so common with other ailments that often owners don’t realize their pet has it. Without treatment, it is fatal. Griffin said it’s important for owners to give their vets a full history during a check-up, including time spent by the water, for an accurate diagnosis.

It’s a rare disorder— Northside has treated three known cases and three suspected cases this year. Hunting dogs and those that spend a lot of time by the water are most susceptible. Avoiding areas where fungus is common can help lessen the likelihood of contracting it, Griffin said, but owners shouldn’t be afraid of letting their dogs near the water.

Rice, who runs the “Sit, Stay and Play Dog Park” in Huber Heights with his wife, said he’d never heard of the infection before, and hopes other owners will keep a watchful eye.

“If I can help just anyone see the signs … it’s worth it,” he said.


With the Angel Fund’s help, beautiful Isis thrives

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

isisIsis, a beautiful Pharoah Hound, was not doing well last October.  “She had been down in the dumps off and on for a couple of months,” said her owner, John, a free-lance photographer who asked that his last name not be used. “She lost her appetite – and then she took a turn for the worse and stopped eating and drinking. She lost about five pounds in two weeks – about 10 percent of her body weight or something like that.  So we took her in (to Southern California Veterinary Hospital in Woodland Hills).

The veterinarian said she thought she knew what it was but wanted to run urine tests and do some blood work. The tests confirmed that it was something called Addison’s Disease. It doesn’t get better by itself and so they gave her some steroid shots and also injected some fluid in her because she was dehydrated. That basically saved her life.

“My wife wasn’t working at the time and we were just barely getting by so several hundred dollars on the dog was a lot,” John said.  But Angel Fund contributed $150 and the hospital discounted its fee.  “The money from Angel Fund was a big help – that’s for sure,” he said.

Now Isis, who is seven years old, gets a monthly shot – “every month forever, apparently, and those shots run about $70.” The dog also takes half a prednisone tablet every day as well, medication that is “pretty inexpensive,” John said.

“She has her good days and her bad days. One of the side effects of the shot is that right after that she gets extremely thirsty and every once in a while she can’t control her bladder. . . . And then after the first few days she’s feeling good and is really good for another three or four weeks and then she gets her next shot.  So it’s a cycle.

“The short story is that it undoubtedly saved her life and she is still a member of the family and my two kids love her.  She was a rescue and weighs 48 to 50 pounds.  She’s beautiful. She’s been nothing but a treasure. Not only is she great with my kids but she just loves kids and women in general.”

Survey helps owners make objective decisions about cancer care

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The Pet Quality of Life Survey is designed to help owners by providing objective criteria they can use to decide if treating cancer is the right choice. Veterinarian Maria Iliopoulou developed the survey for dog owners but has plans to revise it so cat owners can use it too. Business Insider (9/19)

More than 73 million U.S. households own a pet and altogether they spend $53 billion per year to care for them.


More than half of that budget goes toward medical treatment, with money spent on supplies and OTC medications rising by more than 7% in 2012.

But where do you draw the line between keeping Fido healthy and compromising your finances to give him a few more months of playtime?

“It’s a very difficult situation [for both patients and veterinarians],” said Dr. Kristen Frank, an internist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  “I’ve had pet owners who don’t necessarily have $15,000 to spend to treat a terminal illness, but they’ve done it anyway through borrowing money or credit cards.”

Emergency treatments can range from $1,500 to $4,000 for dogs, according to Frank, with cancer treatment sometimes costing twice as much or more.

Sometimes, the decision to forego medical care has more to do with the emotional cost of watching a beloved pet go than the potential financial burden.

“Recently I saw a woman who specifically said that her other cat passed way from cancer and she did everything including chemo and she said she did not want to go through that again,” Frank said.

Unlike hospitals for humans, vets don’t typically have the same flexibility to work with pet owners who can’t afford treatments. Pet insurance can be handy, but it often comes with maximum coverage limits, steep deductibles, and pre-existing conditions clauses.

“Payment plans are also hard to come by,” Frank said. “The financial aspect of veterinary care is toughest thing our people have to deal with on a daily basis …We all wish we could provide free care but unfortunately it’s just not possible.”

But how does a pet owner decide whether to pay for treatment or let their pet go?

There is no one-size-fit-all answer, but a Michigan State University research may have found a simple way to help pet owners through such difficult times.

“Pets are like surrogate children,” said Maria Iliopoulou. “In some cases, when a human bond evolves, it makes the decision more difficult.”

Iliopoulou, who owns a small menagerie of pets herself, set out in 2009 to create a “Quality of Life Survey for Canine Cancer Patients” that dog owners can use to look at medical treatment with an unbiased eye.

Before each visit, Iliopoulou suggests dog owners complete the survey, which asks basic questions to help them track major quality of life indicators for canines — play behavior, signs of illness, and overall happiness.

“What we were trying to do with the research was to isolate the emotions to help people make the best decisions for their pet and for themselves,” she said. “It helps the owner to pay attention to specific observable changes and transfer this info to the veterinarian.”

So far, the survey is applicable only to dogs, but Iliopoulou plans on continuing her research in order to create similar tools for a range of animals, like cats, birds, etc.

CLICK HERE to view the survey.

From the AVMA about canine circovirus

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Canine circovirus infections have been documented in dogs with vomiting and diarrhea. The distribution of the virus in the U.S. is not yet known, but dogs infected with circovirus have been reported in California and circovirus may be associated with recent illness and death of dogs in Ohio.

CLICK HERE to see the FAQ from the American Veterinary Medical Association

Veterinary Specialists of the Valley helps Opie

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Opie Ferguson Picture

The Veterinary Specialists of the Valley turned to the Angel Fund to help save the Ferguson’s family pet, Opie.

Veterinarians skeptical canine circovirus alone is sickening dogs

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

September 10, 2013
By: Jennifer Fiala For The VIN News Service

Photos courtesy of Dr. Melania Butera

Dr. Melanie Butera, a practitioner in Canal Fulton, Ohio, recently treated a Shar-Pei mix named Lexi for vasculitis, which caused the skin on her back to slough off. After the tissue was kept moist and sterile for approximately 30 days, the dog’s skin regrew. Butera removed Lexi’s sutures on Sept. 7. The photos shows Lexi’s wound at day one (top left), day 10 (top right) and nearly healed (above).

It might look like circovirus and act like circovirus … and still not be circovirus.

That’s what scientists investigating the mysterious illness that’s sickening and killing dogs in Ohio and elsewhere say after diagnostic tests of some infected samples came back positive for Dog Circovirus, or DogCV.

Dr. Patricia Pesavento is an associate professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. In the wake of reports that dogs in Ohio were dying of a mysterious toxicant or virus, she received samples from three of the infected animals, only one of which tested positive for DogCV.

The dogs’ clinical signs included bloody diarrhea and vomiting, extreme lethargy, neurological problems and lack of appetite. Severe hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and vasculitis are associated with DogCV. Treatment guidelines do not exist apart from supportive care.

“Understanding the pathogenesis of DogCV is in its infancy,” Pesavento explained by email. Pointing to previous research she conducted on DogCV, Pesavento said, “We have identified 10 animals retrospectively that are infected with DogCV and that have vascular-based disease, but there is a large burden of proof for causality.”

By phone, she added: “My bottom line: Circovirus is part of this; we don’t know if it’s the same agent killing all of these animals.”

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which is organizing the investigation, is asking veterinarians to consult the agency’s Division of Animal Health at (614) 728-6220 if they see suspected cases. Concerned pet owners are encouraged to talk to their veterinarians.

Researchers at The Ohio State University (OSU) also are testing samples from sickened dogs. Melissa Weber, director of communications for the veterinary college, confirmed that one dog was sent to OSU for necropsy.

She stated that OSU does not have the ability to test for DogCV. “Everything else they’ve tested for has come back negative,” she said. “Circovirus is interesting, but that doesn’t mean it’s causing these deaths.”

Even so, mainstream media have run with the idea that dogs are dying after contracting circovirus. “It’s a scary new disease that can kill your dog,” an Ohio news agency reported.

A press release issued last week by State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey is less definitive.

“The laboratory confirmation is important because the virus is newly isolated, however we are not prepared at this time to confirm that canine circovirus is the cause of the dog illnesses,” he said. “Because the symptoms being exhibited can also be linked to other known illnesses, additional analysis and information is needed to determine if this virus is alone or in co-infection.”

DogCV is newly isolated and there is very little information available about the virus, where it came from and how it spreads, the Ohio Department of Agriculture press release stated. “The limited research available shows that canine circovirus can cause vasculitis and hemorrhaging in infected dogs.”

Porcine Circovirus, the only other known mammalian circovirus, can cause vasculitis in swine.

Dr. Melanie Butera in Canal Fulton, 18 miles south of Akron, is one of a handful of practitioners in Ohio who’ve treated dogs infected with the novel virus. “I had two dogs come in on the same day with these odd and very severe signs,” said Butera of the first of her patients that presented with signs of the disease on Aug. 24. “These dogs had been sick such a short period of time with normal blood work. I immediately thought there was no way this was a virus. It worked too quickly for the viral diseases we are used to seeing.”

One of the two dogs died. It was then that Butera learned several dogs recently had become ill and three died after visiting a boarding facility in Norwood, north of Cincinnati.

Despite extensive testing of the facility, no bacterial agent or toxicant was found to have caused the cases, which sounded a lot like what Butera was seeing in her own practice. Butera turned to the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession, where she consulted colleagues about what she was witnessing.

“What has really stood out to me in these cases is the acute profound lethargy/weakness/depression, and the sinus tachycardia,” she wrote in a VIN discussion. By phone, she added: “The big thing was how sick these dogs were in such a short time period. They had fluid coming out of their gums. They weren’t passing bloody diarrhea, they were passing blood and clear fluid.”

Another dog Butera treated with similar clinical signs is on the mend after vasculitis caused the skin on its back to slough off. She’s now collecting reports from veterinarians in the area who’ve seen patients with similar conditions and has warned her clients about what she says are “sporadic cases.”

“It was one of my patients that tested positive for circovirus,” Butera said. “But I’ve said this repeatedly: Just because they found the virus does not mean it caused the disease.”