The Yolo County Animal Shelter is struggling against parvovirus, a highly contagious canine virus that has killed 10 dogs in the last month.
The last case of the virus was on Apr. 21 and shelter staff believe the outbreak is now under control, said Vicky Fletcher, Yolo County’s chief animal services officer.
Parvovirus is a malicious disease that can result in bloody diarrhea, vomiting and a noticeably sick dog. Dogs may also display depression, lethargy and a loss of appetite. The disease may result in death due to dehydration.
The dog’s appearance and behavior significantly changes within 24 hours, Fletcher. Infected dogs can even shed the virus via hair loss up to five days prior to visible symptoms of the disease.
“The virus spreads easily,” Fletcher said. “We move the animals to clean their kennels daily and when we come in contact with them, the virus can get onto our clothes.“
Once the outbreak began on Mar. 25, the county began using a different cleaning protocol. Shelter staffers isolated the sick and high-risk dogs and bleached the kennels.
The Yolo County Animal Shelter vaccinates all animals on intake, but it may take several days for the protection to kick in. The first two dogs with parvovirus probably contracted the virus outside before being admitted, Fletcher said. Then, it spread to dogs that had not been previously vaccinated.
There is a way to prevent dogs from catching the virus. A $20 vaccination is not only cheap, but extremely effective, said Kate Hurley, director of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Since so many people get their puppies vaccinated, the disease is rare, she said.
If finances are a problem for the vaccinations, the Yolo County Animal Shelter and many other locations in the county offer low-cost vaccine clinics.
“This is an easy and inexpensive way of keeping dogs alive,” said Fletcher.
Hurley said vaccination is extremely important since it could prevent another incident from occurring.
“Review your records and if there is any doubt, get it done,” Hurley said.
Dog owners should have their puppies start vaccinations at around two months to help boost their immune system and prevent them from catching parvovirus. The vaccination occurs in three vaccines, separated by three weeks, followed by a booster shot every year. Failing to receive the booster shot increases the likelihood of catching the virus.
Once the puppy is vaccinated, it will need to remain safe since it does not respond to the vaccination until it reaches four months of age. It is extremely important to take caution.
“I advise people to not take their puppies to dog parks and animal shelters,” said Hurley.
According to Hurley, these are unsafe and unclean places for under four month puppies to explore. She also noted that one should carry their puppy while in parking lots and buildings of pet stores, veterinarian offices and anywhere else where dogs may have walked.
The virus is highly contagious. Once the virus spreads, it is highly durable and may last for up to two years if in a dark and damp spot. If a dog that carries the virus defecates, the area should be cleaned instantly with different kinds of bleach and disinfectants. However, the virus may still last for several days in the location.
If a dog comes down with parvovirus-like symptoms, one should take it to the veterinarian. Treatment for the virus can be expensive, but it is effective since most dogs live after treatment.
In the animal shelter, two of the diseased dogs were treated with antibiotics and extra fluids. Only one of those dogs survived the treatment. The other nine dogs were euthanized by the county.
The dog that survived is a threat of spreading the virus still since he can shed it for up to 30 days after signs stop. That dog was isolated from the shelter by returning to the veterinarian’s home.
Non-dog owners should not worry about the disease, since the virus is only spread from canine to canine. Some strains of parvovirus can be traced back to cats, but Hurley does not believe the recent outbreak would affect cats. However, it is always something to be cautious about.
ERIC SCHMIDT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.