Last month, Ohio veterinarian and health officials were shaken by the menacing deaths of four dogs. Three dogs from the Cincinnati area and one outside Akron all died within days of exhibiting a series of unnerving symptoms that included vomiting, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy. Now, the state’s Department of Agriculture is investigating the link to determine whether the four animals died from the same disease.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, health officials have urged veterinarians to contact the department should they encounter the symptoms in any of their patients. Erica Hawkins, communication director for the department, said that dog owners are advised to remain vigilant as well.

“We feel obligated to make sure pet owners are aware this is happening,” she told reporters. “Supportive therapies can be helpful if started early enough. But we don’t want people to get too worried.”

While the cause of the deaths remains obscure, LiveScience reports that the Akron dog’s stool tested positive for canine circovirus – a recently isolated agent commonly found in birds and pigs. The same virus is thought to have infected a one-year-old dog in California last year. Due to the animal’s poor condition, it was euthanized before the onset of advanced symptoms.

The link notwithstanding, health officials are reluctant to draw any conclusions. Melissa Weber, a spokeswoman for the Ohio State University Veterinarian Medical Center, told The Columbus Dispatch that a necropsy of the Akron dog was inconclusive. Without further analysis, the department is hesitant to implicate canine circovirus, as the condition has only been observed once in the past.

"The laboratory confirmation [of circovirus] 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," veterinarian Tony Forshey said in a statement. "Because the symptoms being exhibited can also be linked to other known illnesses, additional analysis and information is needed to determine if this virus alone or in co-infection contributes to illness and death in dogs."

While little is known about the virus, officials maintain that there is no serious cause for alarm so far. Forshey told reporters that dog owners should continue to take normal health precautions. That said, nascent symptoms should not go unreported.

"The most important thing dog owners can do is call their veterinarian if they have concerns about the health of their pets," he explained. "Your veterinarian is the best person to help determine if your animal is ill and what steps should be taken to help them recover."