A Q&A from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
What is parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dog’s body, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvovirus also attacks the white blood cells, and the virus can damage the heart muscle and cause lifelong cardiac problems.
What are the symptoms of parvovirus?
The general symptoms are lethargy, severe vomiting, loss of appetite and bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea that can lead to life-threatening dehydration.
How is parvovirus transmitted?
Parvovirus is extremely contagious and can be transmitted by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog’s feces. Highly resistant, the virus can live in the environment for months, and may survive on inanimate objects such as food bowls, shoes, clothes, carpet and floors.
Which dogs are prone to parvovirus?
Puppies, adolescent dogs and canines that are not vaccinated are most susceptible to the virus. The canine parvovirus affects most members of the dog family (wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc.).
How can parvovirus be prevented?
Make sure that dogs are up-to-date on vaccinations. Because parvovirus can live in an environment for months, owners need to take extra care if there has been an infected dog in the house or yard. Parvo is resistant to many typical disinfectants.
Can parvovirus be treated?
Dogs infected with parvovirus need intensive treatment in a veterinary hospital, where they receive antibiotics, drugs to control the vomiting, intravenous fluids and other supportive therapies. Be prepared for considerable expense, and treatment is not always successful.
When is it time to see the vet?
If owners notice that their dog is experiencing severe vomiting, loss of appetite, depression or bloody diarrhea, contact a veterinarian immediately.
FORT WAYNE — Officials are warning dog owners of a potent virus that can kill a family pet in days and can linger on shoes, sidewalks and floors for months, infecting any unvaccinated dog coming in contact with it.
The virus is also nothing new.
“It’s an illness that happens every year,” said Peggy Bender, community relations and education specialist for Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control. “Every year we try to get the word out.”
The virus is canine parvovirus, and despite the ability to stop it with routine vaccinations, it kills thousands of dogs each year. Officials issued an alert about the virus last week, but Bender said the alert is issued annually because people still don’t get the vaccination to prevent it.
“It’s mostly people who just are careless and not doing what they’re supposed to do in getting those vaccinations in a timely fashion,” Bender said. “I think there’s misunderstanding among people who get a puppy and think it doesn’t need vaccinations until it’s a year old. When actually, puppies are the most vulnerable and need a series of vaccinations to prevent parvo.”
The virus, spread through the feces of infected dogs, can live on hard surfaces for months and can be resistant to disinfectants, usually killing its victims by dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea.
All dogs are vulnerable to parvovirus, said Aboite Animal Hospital’s Dr. Dan Rodgers, but Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers are especially susceptible because of a genetic weakness against the virus, making their vaccinations even more critical.
Rodgers said that if a mother dog has been vaccinated properly, it will pass along some of the antibodies to her pups through nursing, which helps protect the puppies until they get the series of three vaccinations needed to be safe. But if the mother has not been vaccinated, the puppies are at extreme risk if they don’t get their shots.
“They’re sunk,” Rodgers said. “They pick it up so easily.”
The real tragedy of parvovirus, officials said, is that it is so easily prevented.
“The bottom line is you want every puppy vaccinated if possible. It’s very effective,” Rodgers said. “You want at least three vaccinations into them, … but that can really go a long way toward never having a problem.”
Bender said that if you suspect your dog might have parvovirus, call your veterinarian promptly.
“Call first,” she said. “Don’t just walk in their front door because it’s so highly contagious.”
Bender said proper health care for pets can be expensive but is much cheaper than the alternative.
“It’s a painful death, with lots of suffering,” she said. “It can just destroy the emotions of a family who are loving this puppy and are so excited about bringing it home.”