Dog owners on St. Croix were warned Friday that the canine disease parvovirus is having one of its periodic outbreaks on the island, and they should be aware of the signs to look for as they keep an eye on their pets.
At a press conference Friday afternoon at the Animal Welfare Center, veterinarian Michelle Mehalick said parvovirus can make a dog extremely sick and is especially dangerous for puppies, which have poorly developed immune systems and can easily succumb.
Parvo breaks out cyclically, Mehalick said. It will lie dormant for months, and then suddenly a lot of animals all seem to become ill at once. The last outbreak was last summer, she said, but this new one seems particularly bad.
"Just in the past few weeks I’ve seen seven or eight cases," she said. "I didn’t see that many al last year."
While the disease doesn’t strike at a particular time of year, she noted that it does often crop up after a heavy rain. Parvo is a hardy virus and can live three to five years in the soil before something stirs it up; it infects a dog or is picked up by a human or other creature which passes it on to a dog. From there it passes mostly thorough dog to dog contact, Mehalick said.
Older dogs can get sick, but it’s particularly dangerous for puppies less than six month old.
The virus initially attacks a dog’s digestive system, so the first symptoms an owner is likely to notice are vomiting and a very foul diarrhea, often with a yellowish tinge. Because the lining of the digestive system is attacked, the dog cannot absorb water or nutrition from food. Other symptoms of parvovirus include lethargy, depression, dehydration and high fever.
An owner who spots these symptoms should get the animal to the right away, Mehalick said.
Parvovirus is easy to prevent, the vet said. Puppies should be vaccinated at the age of eight weeks, and the vaccination should be boosted every one to three years.
Liz Goggins, executive director of the Animal Welfare Center, said the facility has a good protocol for dealing with the possibility of infection. Puppies are separated from adult dogs. If a new animal shows signs of the illness it is separated immediately and treated. All dogs receive parvovirus vaccination before they leave, she added.
The center has been flooded with puppies this winter, and while the staff is working to adopt as many as possible, they’re still coming in as fast or faster than they’re going out. Friday afternoon Goggins said they’d had 12 puppies dropped off just that day.
"We still have a lot of puppies," she said.