Protect pets from deadly parvo

Gabe Semenza

April 12, 2010 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated April 11, 2010 at 11:12 p.m.

Kristin Black adopted Tootsie because the Rottweiler mix reminded her of a pet that died not long ago, she said.

Last week, Tootsie almost died, too.

With spring upon us and a rainy summer forecast, veterinarians warn pet owners to protect against parvo and other deadly diseases.

Black, an 18-year-old Victoria woman, adopted Tootsie on March 29. The puppy was 6 weeks old then.

"The moment we looked at her we immediately fell in love with her," Black said. "I became very attached to her in a short time."

Within four days, Black noticed Tootsie's stomach swelled, she said. Then with regularity, the puppy vomited, avoided food, displayed bloody, liquid stool and became lethargic.

At midnight on Easter, Black rushed her puppy to a local animal hospital. Doctors diagnosed Tootsie with parvo.

Parvo, or parvovirus, is a viral disease that most often affects puppies and dogs younger than 2 years old. The virus spreads fast internally and is fatal if not treated. In puppies, parvo can infect the heart muscle and cause sudden death.

The virus spreads through canine feces and remains highly contagious for months and sometimes years. Dogs that step in contaminated feces contract the virus later when they clean their paws. Dogs can also fall sick if they play with tainted objects, such as shoes.

Local veterinarians say parvo cases increase during rainy seasons, as well as spring and fall. Rainfall, for example, can draw aged virus particles to the ground's surface.

Mark Besancon is a veterinarian with the Crossroads Veterinary Clinic. Parvo symptoms include those exhibited by Tootsie, Besancon said, as well as high fever, dehydration and depression.

"We're seeing a lot of cases," Besancon said. "They seem to come in waves."

Calls to other area veterinarians show parvo counts this year range from sporadic to normal. Besancon treated five puppies last week, for reference.

Because the disease's incubation period is from one to two weeks, most pet owners might adopt a pet that appears healthy - only to find days later that it's ill.

To protect your newly-adopted pets, veterinarians suggest you schedule exams right away.

"If caught early, you can save these little guys," Besancon said. "You don't have to put your dog down. If you don't catch it early, though, it can be fatal. It's important to get your pet started on vaccinations. We have a vaccination for parvo."

Tootsie underwent intensive treatment at a local animal hospital. Parvo treatment can span a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the disease. Tootsie's case was extreme.

It's difficult to know whether Tootsie contracted the disease at a local pet adoption shelter, or if the puppy fell ill elsewhere. Black lives in an apartment complex, a hotbed for the spreading of parvo.

"We see a lot of dogs with parvo from apartment complexes," said John Beck, a local veterinarian. "Everyone walks their dogs in the same area. If all the puppies walk in the same infected area, they can be exposed to the viral disease."

As for Tootsie, her $750 animal hospital stay ended after a half-week. There, the puppy received the only effective protection: adequate vaccination.

"She came home yesterday morning and she's doing great. She's energetic and playful and back to normal," Black, Tootsie's owner, said. "I would say if you are going to adopt an animal, look them over, watch for symptoms. If possible, take them to a veterinarian as soon as you can."



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