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Sunday, June 24 2018 @ 10:21 PM EDT

What's Happening to Our Dog's Immune Systems


Recently, there has been some disturbing news of a new virus that has killed several dogs in Ohio, one in California and one in Maryland. It was also reported in Michigan, at first claimed to be an unknown virus, it was later to be identified as Circovirus. Unfortunately, not all the dogs that have perished have tested positive for Circovirus, making it even more of a wild card. Researchers are not even sure how it is transmitted, or if normal, healthy dogs carry and shed it through their feces. And, remember, it may not be Circovirus at all. They are, presently, uncertain. But one thing is certain. If left untreated, it can (potentially) kill your pet!


Circovirus is a disease known to infect swine and birds. Dogs and pigs have lived together for years with the only real threat being Pseudorabies (more commonly called Aujeszky's Disease). Circovirus can produce symptoms much like the flu, and dog owners are being cautioned to observe their animals closely. They do not have to come in contact with pigs or birds to contract the disease. We, their owners, may be transmitting this onto them, and vice-versa. These types of diseases are known as "zoonosis", and the most common of these is Rabies.

Because they require years of research to develop, there is no vaccine presently available. Veterinarians are asking dog owners to keep a close watch on their pets for the symptoms of bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and sudden lethargy.

I bring this to the attention of SWFL dog owners for one very important reason. Due to southwest Florida's tourists arriving and, typically, spending several months with us, vigilance is a good idea. Since we do not know how it is spread, symptoms need to be addressed. Treatment is available if Circovirus is diagnosed quickly. Left untreated, this disease can kill within 12-72 hours. Up to 30 cases have been diagnosed in Michigan alone. (Symptoms have also been seen in a few other species as well, such as cats and rabbits)

So how do we keep our pets safe? Since we don't know exactly how Circovirus is transmitted, avoiding places where "visiting" dogs may congregate is one suggestion. Obviously, lack of contact should keep our pets safe. Day cares, doggy parks and doggy get togethers are particularly suspect. The first several dogs diagnosed with Circovirus in Ohio had one thing in common.....a boarding kennel. You may want to consider at-home pet sitting  and home grooming service instead of your vet's office or boarding/grooming facilities. If you have neighbors visiting, a quarantine period may be in order. This may not be 100% effective, but it can certainly cut down on the infection rate within our own pets. How long is unknown, but at least 10 days is a good precautionary period, as many diseases incubate within this time frame. Watch for symptoms and (even if it is a false alarm) contact your veterinarian if your pet is not acting right.

So why should we consider what's wrong with our dogs immune system? For starters, many pet owners over-vaccinate! We vaccinate for things our dogs may never come in contact with. We sometimes vaccinate for diseases our dogs will never get again (such as a Parvo survivor) because its more "convenient"  for the vet to use what they have on hand, which is often 5 or 7 in one shots. There are alternatives. Yearly vaccination is now not necessary. Rabies is state allowed every three years with former proper vaccination. DHPP (Distemper/Parvo) is now approved for use as a three-year vaccine. The popular myth that we have to vaccinate every year is just that....a myth.

Veterinarians who push the yearly shots are doing because it is important to see the vet for a wellness check. Many persons will do this only if they believe they need to have shots. Not all dog owners are up-to-date on what needs to be done, and others are falsely led to believe that all of these vaccines are required by law. Leptospirosis is another disease that many "city" pets will never encounter, so it may not be necessary for your pet to be vaccinated against it. In actuality, this vaccine has one of the highest incidents of reactions. Speak with your vet, and if you cannot get a sound answer other than "s/he needs it" without explanation, seek another opinion.

All these vaccines, especially if given together at the same time (again, yet another "convenience") can wreak havoc on your dogs (or cats) immune system. It is possible, that by weakening our pet's immune systems, we, potentially, set our pets up for new invasive diseases. Should you prefer a more natural and holistic approach, a process known as "titers" can be performed. Find a good holistic veterinarian or someone who is both familiar and comfortable with this approach.


Mandy Massara is a southwest Florida resident and owner of All Aspects Animal Care , a member business in our Ft. Myers and Cape Coral Business Directories.
She is offering a $5.00 discount on any services for new customers who mention finding her on Greatest Cape!

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