State officials are encouraging pet owners to take extra precautions with their dogs while the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development investigates a new deadly virus that has been detected in the northern Lower Peninsula.

According to a news release, Michigan State Veterinarian Nora Wineland says the virus could be a new or modified strain of canine parvovirus, but more testing is needed for confirmation.

The first cases were reported earlier this month in Otsego and Clare counties. According to a report from the Clare County Cleaver, more than 30 dogs died in a matter of days from the virus. One breeder reported losing 21 puppies and dogs.

Clare County Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks told the Cleaver last week that her facility had eight dogs get sick with the virus and show symptoms that mimicked parvo — vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stool — but all tested negative for canine parvovirus. Hicks also noted that some of the dogs were vaccinated against canine parvovirus, but not all.

An MDARD release issued Monday confirmed that some of those dogs tested positive for parvo during a necropsy.

“We are still in the early stages of this investigation. … However, there are more results pending and more to be learned,” Wineland said in a release. “When MDARD first learned of these cases in northern Michigan, we immediately reached out to the veterinarians and animal shelters involved and began our response efforts. Protecting animal and public health is one of the department’s key pillars, but it is a team effort. Dog owners need to ensure their pet is up to date on routine vaccinations as it’s the first step in keeping your pet healthy.”

MDARD is encouraging all dog owners to keep their pets updated on routine vaccinations — especially those who live in or travel to the northern Lower Peninsula. Those vaccines include canine parvovirus, rabies, canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and leptospirosis.

The MDARD recommends keeping dogs and puppies away from other animals until they are fully vaccinated, keeping dogs away from other animals if they are showing any signs of illness and cleaning up after your pet when walking them in public.

While the virus has not been reported yet in West Michigan, Angela Hollinshead, the director of the Kent County Animal Shelter, says she is keeping a close eye on the situation. For now, she says most of the advice is common sense.

“I think it’s a good reminder for people to just be safe with your pet and be mindful of pet waste,” Hollinshead told News 8. “If you’re walking your pet, it’s really important that you pick it up, because even though your dog may not have signs or symptoms of an illness, they could still be carrying something that they could spread, not just parvovirus, but other things, parasites. It is just good practice and common courtesy to pick up after your pet.”

She continued: “If you go to the dog park and you notice a dog that has, for example, a bowel movement that looks suspicious and runny, something like that, leave. Don’t let your dog hang out around other dogs that are showing any signs and symptoms of illness.”

While vaccines aren’t 100% effective at preventing illness or death, they can go a long way toward protecting your pet. Hollinshead says it’s important to do what you can for your pet’s health.

“It’s really sad when we have animals that are presented to us at the shelter for illness and the owners can’t afford hospitalization. They reach out to their animal shelters, their humane societies, their rescues for support on this when, realistically, a vaccine probably could have prevented this from happening,” Hollinshead said. “Now, with the cases that we’re seeing with this new development, we don’t know 100% what’s causing it, but the best precautions that we can take are making sure that our pets are vaccinated.”

The Kent County Animal Shelter provides a basic package of vaccines for any animal that comes into its care, including distemper and parvovirus, while other are administered on a case-by-case basis.

Canine parvovirus is highly contagious and can spread through direct contact or items contaminated by a dog’s feces. Canine parvovirus is not contagious to people or other animals.