Dog Sleeping on Floor
Some angst is brewing among 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. Just this week, two dogs in Michigan tested positive for the microorganism.

What Is Circovirus?

Circoviruses 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, the two 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.

Circovirus was first reported as a possible cause of illness in dogs by researchers in California, and it 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 signs 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 day care.

What Should You Do?

Signs of illness thought to be caused by canine circovirus are lethargy and severe vomiting and diarrhea. These are nonspecific signs, 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 can help prevent dehydration and increase the likelihood of recovery. 

If your dog is a frequent flier at a boarding kennel, doggie day care facility or dog park, I encourage you to be just as “heads up” as you normally would be in order to protect your dog’s health. Inspect the facility for evidence of 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. More studies of canine circovirus are in progress, and I am confident we will have much more certain information in the near future. For now, there is no need to do anything more than take good care of your dogs — something I am sure you are already doing! We will keep you apprised of any new developments.

Prior to this, what have you heard about canine circovirus?