An unusual number of highly contagious canine parvovirus cases – enough to be considered an epidemic – have turned up on Sterling’s west side in the past month or so, a local veterinarian said.
The good news is, the virus that causes severe diarrhea and even death in dogs of all ages, but particularly puppies, seems to be running its course, said Dr. Laurainne Haenni of Advanced Animal Clinic in Rock Falls.
“We have been seeing many cases of parvo recently,” Haenni said. “Most of these cases involve pups, but we also are seeing it in older dogs, 1 to 2 years and up. My staff and I are alarmed at the number of cases we have treated.”
Although a few cases every summer is typical, Haenni said she has treated about a half-dozen cases in May alone, and about half the dogs have died. A spokeswoman at Morrison Veterinary Clinic reported one case as of last week, also from the same area of Sterling.
The signs of canine parvovirus include foul-smelling, bloody and often severe diarrhea, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, discomfort, rapid weight loss, and vomiting. Dogs exhibiting those symptoms should be tested immediately.
The virus, which is spread in feces and other dog-to-dog contact, can contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, even the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs.
The major cause of a parvo outbreak is failure to vaccinate puppies against the virus, which can remain active up to a year under certain conditions, Haenni said.
The incubation period is up to 2 weeks, so dogs exposed to the virus might not show symptoms for a while. It spreads easily to unvaccinated dogs when dogs who carry the disease but don’t yet show symptoms come into contact with other unvaccinated dogs, she said.
“By the time a dog becomes ill, it may have infected other dogs by being in common areas such as homes, yards, or on neighborhood walks. An uninfected dog steps in an infected area, tracks the virus to other areas, then licks or washes its paws, introducing the virus into its system, and the cycle continues.”
Newborn pups get antibodies from their mother’s milk, but that immunity wears off before their immune systems are strong enough to fight off the virus. That means puppies younger than 4 months and dogs that have not been vaccinated are at risk.
Vaccinations are recommended every 3 weeks from about 6 weeks of age until the dog is 12 weeks – or up to 22 weeks if the breed is particularly susceptible, such as Rottweilers, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and pit bulls. Adult dogs should get a booster shot once a year.
Because the infection can’t be transmitted to humans, parvo vaccinations aren’t required by law, so many people, some for economic reasons, don’t get them. But the vaccine is like an insurance policy, Haenni said.
Treatment consists primarily of isolating the dog, then battling dehydration by replacing electrolytes and fluid losses, controlling the vomitting and diarrhea, and preventing other infections while the dog’s immune system is weakened by the parvo. Hospitalizations can last up to a week.
“Unfortunately, treating the disease is far more costly than the vaccination,” Haenni said, “and often any treatment is too late to save a beloved pet.”
Even if a dog recovers, it will be at risk of contaminating other dogs for at least 2 months.
Get the vaccinations, she recommends.
“It could save your dog’s life.”