Sudbury is experiencing what she is calling an “epidemic” with the extremely contagious canine parvovirus, which can kill a dog if left untreated, she said. Pet Save had already seen at least 10 cases of the virus, while Walden Animal Hospital has been dealing with an average of one case a week, and that's since last August, according to veterinarian Dr. Carolyn Lariviere.
Both women confirmed they've seen more cases of the virus this year than they have in the past 10 or 12 years.
“Normally, there's a respite through the winter, with cases starting to pop up near the end of the summer,” Lariviere said. “This year, it hasn't stopped.”
“It's at an epidemic level this year,” Pessot said. “It's the worst I've seen it in 12 years, and it's 10 times worse that what I normally see.”
Parvovirus is is spread through the feces of infected canines, puppies usually, “and people don't typically clean up well enough after their dogs – that's why it has spread far and wide,” Lariviere said.
The outbreak is partly due to a lack of vaccinations, both women said, but it's also due to the fact more and more people are travelling with their pets, resulting in a wider contagion area.
In other years, they said, the virus has been limited to very specific geographical areas of the city; however, right now, “it's pretty much everywhere. We've had cases from Dowling, from Wahnapitae, from the Valley, Chelmsford, Lively even out to Massey,” Lariviere said.
Pessot said the hot spots for parvovirus are usually contained to lower-income neighbourhoods, such as the Donovan.
Parvo is “highly contagious,” Lariviere said. The virus is very stable in the environment, meaning long after the feces has been cleaned up or is gone, even months later, the viral particles are still there and are still infective. Those particles are very resistant to both heat and cold, and it can be carried on people's running shoes, car and bicycle tires.
“It's a very tough virus, and it doesn't take very much exposure for a dog to become infected,” she said.
“Usually, what happens, is a dog comes along and sniffs that spot, and as soon as they lick their nose, the viral particle gains entry into the dog's digestive tract, and that's how infection occurs.”
The rest happens very quickly. Within 10 to 14 days, the virus invades the intestinal tract and starts to cause severe bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms include severe vomiting and lethargia.
“The dogs that contract the virus suffer greatly,” Pessot said. “Within 48 hours, a dog can dehydrate to death if it isn't treated.”
The only prevention to the parvovirus is vaccination, they said, which is very effective. The average hospitalization for parvo easily comes with a pricetag of $1,000, Lariviere said. That includes medications and about a one-week quarantine due to the virus' severely infections nature.
More often than not, the dogs pull through after they contract the virus, Lariviere said. However, Walden Animal Hospital has lost or euthanized about 20 per cent of the dogs that have been taken there.
“Parvovirus is so easy to prevent,” she said. “In fact, there are other parts of the world where the virus has been eradicated, but for some reason, we still struggle with it. Those other locations have strong vaccination programs, and when the majority of the population is vaccinated, it goes away.”
She said she's at a loss as to why parvovirus remains such an issue and why people don't have their dogs vaccinated. Perhaps there is some misconception about the vaccines, such as the price, but spending $60 to $100 would go a long way in preventing a possible $1,000 vet bill, or even the loss of a pet.
“A lot of the puppies that bring in the virus, I think, are coming from outside the area, and are coming from breeders who don't vaccinate or don't vaccinate properly, or people are having litters and not getting them vaccinated,” she said.
Pessot said residents need to be informed about the virus, especially with the city's first dog park slated to open this year.
“It'll be a hot spot for parvovirus, so people need to make sure they get their dogs to the veterinarian for vaccinations,” she said. “A puppy's immune system is very weak, they have to build it up over time, and that's why vaccinations are so important. Last year, we even started seeing it in adult dogs. Black and tan dogs seem to be more prone to the virus.”
Posted by Mark Gentili