Parvovirus stopping dogs in their tracks

Phyllis Casteel is a by-the-book kind of dog owner, always a stickler for getting her “babies” immunized with their annual shots.

So, when her prize-winning dog, Smooch, a blue Australian shepherd, a year and a half old, went from being a spunky, happy-go-lucky canine to lethargic — and then dying — earlier this month, Casteel was grief-stricken.

“It was that quick,” said Casteel, who shares her Orchard Mesa home with a multitude of other tail-wagging, four-legged friends. “It’s heartbreaking that I do what I’m supposed to and my dog died.”

Smooch, whose real name was Missy, got out of Casteel’s sight one day earlier this month and ran four doors down to a small park. Casteel said her dog sniffed the feces of another dog and contracted the highly contagious canine disease parvovirus. Within two days Smooch stopped eating, began to vomit continuously and developed severe, bloody diarrhea. Casteel rushed her puppy to a veterinarian, who diagnosed the dog with parvo, but it was too late.

“She was running around like normal, then 10 minutes later she was lying on the couch and looked mopey,” said Casteel, who had immunized her dog against parvo. “She was a great dog. She definitely didn’t deserve to die that way.”

While puppies generally are more susceptible to contracting parvo, a particularly nasty strain of the viral illness in Mesa County is infecting even older dogs.

Tracy Hokanson, veterinarian at Clifton Animal Hospital, said the disease tends to afflict puppies younger than 8 weeks and surfaces every spring and fall. However, Hokanson has helped treat seven dogs with parvo this fall season, an extraordinary amount of dogs with the disease for her small practice, she said.

Two of the seven dogs died: Smooch and a puppy. Hokanson said she was surprised that a dog, not a puppy, was among the deaths.

According to Mesa County Animal Services, in a little more than a one-week period, starting Oct. 8, 11 dogs were diagnosed with parvo. Eight of the dogs were puppies. Two of the dogs were in severe distress and died. The others were taken by Grand Rivers Humane Society to be rehabilitated, Animal Services Director Penny McCarty said.

“The public does need to know that that’s an awful lot (of parvo cases) to have in the past couple of days,” she said. “You need to know your animal. By the time it’s symptomatic, it’s too late. It’s not something (dogs) can recover from on their own.”

Veterinarian Joe Maruca of Grand Rivers Humane Society said he’s received 20 dogs in the last three months that have been diagnosed with parvo.

Maruca said dog owners can limit the spread of parvo by ensuring puppies receive a full series of shots.

Often puppies are adopted at a young age, and new owners aren’t aware they need additional vaccinations. Puppies should be vaccinated at 6, 8, and 12 weeks old.

Parvo is a disease and can live in the ground for weeks but can be killed with a bleach solution.

Some suggest keeping puppies away from other dogs and avoiding high traffic canine areas, such as pet stores and dog parks.

The virus thrives in moist conditions, and veterinarians said they expect to see an uptick of parvo cases in the spring when snow melts and the ground is moist.

But this fall’s higher than normal number of parvo cases is disturbing.

“The parvo we’ve been seeing is pretty rough,” Hokanson said. “It hit them hard and fast.”


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