Valley veterinarians said this week that they have seen more cases of parvo than usual this year, perhaps due to a lack of vaccinations.
Maggie Acker, a veterinarian at the Sun Valley Animal Center, said she has seen several puppies come in already this month with parvovirus. The virus is a canine intestinal infection that often causes vomiting, lethargy, unwillingness to eat and bloody diarrhea. Dogs catch the virus by coming into contact with the feces of infected dogs, which contain shedding intestinal matter.
Acker said he shedding starts four to five days after exposure, when the virus begins to destroy intestinal crypt epithelium—cells that absorb electrolytes and water. The intestine then begins shedding its mucous membrane, which can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis as well as other infections.
Dogs can shed the virus for about two weeks after exposure, and the virus can live in the ground for at least seven months.
Acker said dogs are typically vaccinated against parvo if the dog’s owner has followed proper vaccination and vet care procedures. Acker said parvo is most common in puppies, unvaccinated young dogs and immunosuppressed older dogs.
Nadia Novik, veterinarian and operations manager at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, said she has seen slightly older dogs come down with the virus at her shelter. She said she hasn’t seen shelter dogs contract parvo while there, but the shelter did obtain two dogs from a shelter in eastern Idaho that had already contracted parvo and were in the incubation period during their transfer.
Dogs with parvo can be symptomless from between three and 14 days after exposure. Novik said one of the infected dogs obtained by the shelter was about 10 months old, but had never been vaccinated, a problem that is not typical in Blaine County.
“We don’t see the outbreaks that other communities do,” she said. “That might be because people are more vigilant about vaccinations here.”
Acker said some of her clients prefer not to vaccinate their dogs, much the way more parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, believing it’s a more “holistic” approach. She said the poor economy might also have an impact.
Novik said dog owners should be on the lookout for sudden lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Treatment involves hydration and antibiotics to prevent sepsis and other secondary infections.
Laurie Breedveld, a veterinarian at the Sawtooth Animal Center in Bellevue, said the virus can be very aggressive. Last year, a 1-year-old Rottweiler died of the disease, though Breedveld said that isn’t typical.
“Survival is pretty good,” she said, “but I never tell people, ‘Oh, your dog will be fine.’”
Breedveld said the parvo vaccination regimen starts between six and eight weeks of age and is boosted several times until the puppy reaches 16 weeks. Dogs get another booster at one year, then every three years.
Novik and Acker both said owners should also be vigilant about picking up the feces of infected or unvaccinated dogs, which can infect other animals. Breedveld said owners of dogs with parvo should also be careful when coming in contact with uninfected dogs.
“It’s very contagious,” she said. “It can be spread through people’s clothing.”
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org