Five dogs at Humane Society shelter test positive for parvovirus

Shelter will accept no owned dogs until further notice

September 26, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |

HAGERSTOWN — At least five positive cases of canine parvovirus have been identified at the Humane Society of Washington County, forcing the shelter to stop accepting dogs until further notice.

Officials with the shelter questioned if the troubled economy is influencing people to choose to forgo vaccinating dogs against the disease.

The humane society issued an alert Monday saying that five puppies taken to the shelter from the 4000 block of Mills Road in Sharpsburg tested positive for the disease.

Shelter spokeswoman Katherine Cooker said all five puppies were put down. Four more dogs at the shelter contracted the disease and had to be euthantized, she said.

Until further notice, the shelter will not accept owned dogs and is asking anyone who finds a dog to please hold onto it and contact the shelter, she said.

Canine parvovirus, commonly knows as parvo, is an extremely contagious and potentially fatal canine disease that is transmitted by direct exposure to feces containing the virus or through contact with an infected animal.

Parvo can survive on inanimate objects such as clothing, food pans and kennels, so exposure to anything that has come into contact with the virus can potentially spread the disease.

Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, said in the alert that the rash of parvo cases originated outside the shelter and indicate a dangerous situation in the community.

“The puppies that were infected were brought in by the public,” he was quoted as saying. “That means the disease is out in the community. It is extremely important for all dogs to be inoculated against the disease.”

A dog that has contracted the disease usually will exhibit extreme diarrhea that is frequently bloody and very foul smelling. It also usually will experience vomiting and lethargy, and will become dehydrated.

If untreated, the disease can be fatal.

“Once you see it, you will know it,” Cooker said. “It’s awful, just awful.”

Dogs younger than 6 months, as well as older, frail dogs are the most susceptible to contracting parvo, she said.

Veterinarians can test to determine if a dog has parvo, and can treat the disease as well as vaccinate against the virus.  

The humane society warned that if a dog is diagnosed with the disease, all items that have come into contact with the virus must be bleached immediately. This includes bedding, food bowls and dishes, and flooring and walls where the infected dog has been, the alert said.

Cooker said shelter workers have been using bleach to clean the shelter.

Bleach is the only way to kill the virus, she said.

For workers and volunteers, that means also stepping in and out of pans of bleach to avoid tracking the virus throughout the shelter.

What caused the dramatic increase in cases seen at the shelter is unclear, but the economy is a prime suspect, the alert said.

“Due to the bad economy, many people are not able to have their dogs inoculated and this can cause a nationwide problem,” Miller was quoted in the alert as saying. “Holding off on inoculating their pets in an effort to save money can result in the pet becoming infected with this potentially fatal disease. If you love your pets, you need to continue to provide preventative care for them.”

The humane society recommends having all pets inoculated, especially dogs, for parvo. If money is an obstacle, it also recommends that owners consult with their veterinarian about making payment arrangements, if possible, to ensure animals receive necessary care, according to the alert.

The basics of parvovirus

Dr. Kathy Gaughan, DVM & DABVP, assistant professor of community practice at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine discusses parvovirus.

Q: What is parvovirus (parvo)?

A: Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious infectious (viral) disease that attacks the rapidly dividing cells in the body, primarily in the intestinal tract, bone marrow and heart.

Q: How does it affect dogs? What are the symptoms and when do they appear?

A: Puppies between 6 weeks and 6 months of age are most commonly affected due to weak immune systems (unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated). Most common symptoms are inappetance, diarrhea (which is often bloody), vomiting and dehydration. Symptoms typically occur between four and 14 days of exposure.
Q: How do dogs contract and spread parvo?

A: Infected dogs, as well as dogs recovering from parvo, will shed the virus in the stool, vomit and saliva for seven to 10 days. The virus can be shed in the stool even before a puppy develops symptoms. The virus enters the body through the mouth and nose.  

Q: How long can the virus survive outside an animal?

A: The virus is very hardy and can survive in soil, clothing, food bowls, etc., for months.

Q: What is the survival rate for affected dogs?

A: With proper treatment, survival rate can be high (greater than 85 percent). Early recognition of symptoms and seeking appropriate care is critical.

Q: Can it be treated? If so, how?

A: Treatment is aimed at providing supportive/nursing care and managing secondary bacterial infections. Intravenous fluid therapy, antibiotics and anti-nausea medications are commonly used. Some animals might require plasma transfusions.  

Q: I have heard it mostly affects puppies and older dogs, but can other dogs contract it?

A: While any dog could theoretically contract parvovirus infection, young, unvaccinated puppies are most at risk. Dogs that have recovered from parvovirus typically have lifelong immunity.  

Q: How do owners prevent their dogs from getting the disease?

A: Vaccination against parvovirus is a very effective means to preventing parvovirus infection. It is important that puppies receive the initial vaccination series every three to four weeks from 8 weeks to 18 weeks of age.  Some breeds (Rottweilers, Dobermans, Staffordshire terriers, Labradors) are more susceptible to parvovirus and initial vaccination series may extend beyond 20 weeks. Avoiding contact with infected puppies and recently recovered puppies is also important.
Q: Can humans spread the disease? If so, how? And what should be done to avoid spreading it?

A: Humans can spread the disease on their hands, shoes and clothing. Washing hands and clothes is important if you suspect you have contacted infected dogs or infected materials (feces, bowls, etc.). Cleaning contaminated bowls and kennels with dilution of bleach (1:30) will render the virus inactivate.  

Q: Why is the threat of an outbreak of parvo taken so seriously?

A: Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that can spread quickly among puppies. It can cause severe illness and even death if left untreated. Parvovirus is a preventable disease; vaccination is a very effective and inexpensive means of protection.

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