Local, state and federal agencies are urgently investigating a mysterious illness — what the state said has canine parvovirus-like symptoms — that has been killing dozens of dogs in northern Michigan.

Animal control officials said Monday the cause is unclear. It’s also unknown whether it is related to illnesses in dogs reported in Europe as early as 2019 — or whether it can be contracted by humans.

There’s no evidence yet, however, that the illness has spread to people, nor is there anything so far that would link the cases to the reported dog deaths in Europe other than similar symptoms, which experts say are common.

The state Department of Agriculture said Monday it is now coordinating with local animal control and vets, the state Association of Animal Control Officers, the federal agriculture department and the Michigan State University Veterinary lab to find what it is.

The outbreak was first reported in Otsego County.

In Otsego County alone, about 30 dogs — privately owned, mostly unvaccinated — have died, Otsego County Animal Control Director Melissa FitzGerald said. She said that it does not appear that the dogs have had contact with each other.

“It’s scary,” FitzGerald added. “There are many things that it could be.”

For at least two months, the dozens of dogs in northern Michigan have been showing parvovirus-like symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea, which is often bloody. But when tested for parvovirus, the results have been negative.

Clare County Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks said the virus seems to kill dogs within days and has speculated it could be a new strain of parvovirus, but it also could be something else entirely.

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“We’ve received a small number of samples to the laboratory and many of them are testing positive for canine parvovirus,” Kim Dodd, director of the MSU lab, said. “But the more samples we receive from animals with these clinical signs, the better able we are to definitively explain the cause of the outbreak.”

The ag department said that while canine parvovirus “is a highly contagious virus of dogs,” the disease is “NOT” — the state emphasized by noting in bold and all caps — contagious to people or other animals.

The virus can be transmitted to other dogs, but a highly effective vaccine is available to protect dogs against the disease. 

“When we learn about these situations, we take action and respond,” state veterinarian Nora Wineland said. “Understanding all of the circumstances surrounding a case is vital because this information will help us better protect both animal and human health.”

Canine parvovirus, also known as CPV or parvo, affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tracts and is spread by dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces and environments.

Unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months old are the most at risk.

The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What makes parvo so dangerous is that it is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods of time.

Even trace amounts of feces from an infected dog may harbor the virus and infect other dogs that come into the infected environment. The virus is readily transmitted from place to place on the hair or feet of dogs or via contaminated cages, shoes, or other objects.

In 2019, the British Broadcasting Corp. also reported a mystery illness in Norway sickened more than 40 dogs that had fallen ill with vomiting and diarrhea, and several later died. 

The first cases were in Oslo, others were reported in several towns.

In addition, the BBC said, a dog in Sweden also had symptoms.

And in January, a mobile vet care company in England warned on Twitter that it was treating dogs with those symptoms.

And more recently, the website iheartdogs.com reported 150 dogs seemed to fall ill in northeast England after strolling on the beach. They also suffered from stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

Wineland said it is too early to comment on the mysterious illness in Europe.

But the state agriculture department strongly encourages pet owners to “work with their veterinarian to ensure their dog is up to date on routine vaccinations.”

If dogs or puppies show signs of illness, the state urges owners to keep their dogs at home, away from other dogs and to call a veterinarian. In addition, the state asked vets to report any unusual conditions in animals.