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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
Since the beginning of January, veterinarians across the Twin Counties have seen a disturbing number of dogs develop symptoms of Parvo, an extremely contagious and sometimes fatal illness.
After seeing several cases of Parvo crop up in recent weeks, they are warning the community to protect their four-legged family members by keeping them up to date on vaccinations, and learning what signs to watch out for in case further medical attention is needed.
Parvo is a highly contagious viral disease that affects dogs and other members of the canine family. It is typically spread from dog to dog through contaminated feces, or contaminated objects such as toys, bedding and clothing.
It is extremely stable in the environment, and resists most disinfectants. When an infection occurs, the area is typically cleaned thoroughly with a bleach solution and quarantined for a period of time.
Dogs that contract parvo begin to develop signs of digestive distress, such as bloody diarrhea, lethargy and loss of appetite. If not caught soon enough, the virus is fatal.
Galax-Carroll-Grayson Regional Animal Shelter staff confirmed with The Gazette last week that there are several veterinarians in the immediate area dealing with Parvo cases. A few weeks ago, the shelter in Galax was shut down for sterilization after a sick pup was brought in.
A phone call to several local vets’ offices turned up more bad news.
Since Jan. 1, Healing Springs Animal Hospital in Galax has seen five cases of Parvo, and two of the five did not make it through treatment.
According to a statement from Dr. Heather Jenkins, the Healing Springs veterinarian, the illness typically kills dogs through dehydration. “Intravenous fluids are so important while the virus runs its course,” she said.
On average, Parvo is curable in about 75 percent of cases treated at Healing Springs. However, life expectancy from case to case can differ, depending on the situation.
Parvo is most aggressive on unvaccinated dogs and young puppies, as their immune systems are weaker. Dogs that have low immunities after fighting concurrent infections with parasites such as roundworms, and other viruses or bacteria have a higher chance of being affected by Parvo, as well.
To protect pets against the virus, Jenkins recommends that vaccines be started with puppies at six to eight weeks, and continue every three weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Yearly vaccinations are also available for older dogs to keep immunities up to date against Parvo and other illnesses.
Jenkins noted that vaccinations are a small expense, compared to what it costs to treat the illness once it has already set up shop. Furthermore, even the best treatments can sometimes leave owners with an empty wallet and a broken heart.
Further prevention, she said, can be exercised by limiting exposure to younger dogs. “Keep puppies less than 16 weeks from parks, the New River Trail and other areas where unvaccinated dogs may defecate,” she said. “Feel free to have puppies socialize with people in commercial places that allow dogs.”
Despite an owner’s best efforts, even the most pampered puppies can sometimes be subject to Parvo. However, the sooner the virus is caught, the more chance a dog has of survival. To help spot the signs as early as possible, the Twin County Humane Society (TCHS) has provided a list of symptoms:
• Lethargy - If a pup that normally likes to play and has a high energy level suddenly seems depressed or sluggish, it is a clear indicator that something is wrong.
• Loss of appetite - The more common strains of Parvo attack the digestive system directly. “If you can’t get a pup to eat wet food, something is wrong,” said a TCHS volunteer.
• Vomiting with no change in diet; the vomit appears clear and foamy.
• Bloody diarrhea is a strong sign of Parvo. TCHS President Laurie Merry explained that these stools are accompanied by a terrible and unforgettable odor. Another volunteer attested to her statement by saying that the odor is “unmistakable, and you will never forget it.”
• Another volunteer added an early symptom to the list: excessive drooling, which can indicate nausea.
If an owner suspects that their dog has Parvo, they should contact their veterinarian immediately to seek treatment. Treatment will often require dogs to stay at the clinic for several days, as intravenous fluids and close monitoring is required.
Local veterinarians’ offices include:
• Galax Veterinary Clinic, 330 E. Stuart Drive in Galax, (276) 236-4212
• Healing Springs Animal Hospital, 107 Nuckolls Curve Road, Galax, (276) 236-5103
• Mountain View Veterinary Clinic, 113 Industry Ln. in Woodlawn, (276) 238-0716
• Carroll Veterinary Clinic, 12 Healthy Trail in Hillsville, (276) 728-4841.