Humane Society finds an increase in cases of canine parvovirus | News, Sports, Jobs
There’s something all too familiar about a virus that has sprung up in the region’s dog population.
“People say it’s so much like COVID,” says Debby Johnson, president of the Faribault County Humane Society (FCHS).
The disease in question – canine parvovirus, or “parvo” for short – is highly contagious. It can affect any dog, although unvaccinated dogs and puppies under four months old are most at risk.
Parvo spreads easily through dog-to-dog contact and through contaminated feces. The resistant virus can also survive on kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and even the hands and clothing of people who come into contact with it.
“If people don’t isolate dogs, they can spread,”Johnson summarizes.
The persistent nature of the virus has caused terrible problems for FCHS, which is still sequestered in a small facility adjacent to the Blue Earth sewage treatment plant.
The small, one-room building offers few options for isolation, and its single drain spreads disease via contaminated water seeping from kennel to kennel.
Conditions are tough under normal circumstances, but FCHS found itself in a real situation when it took in Glitz, a German Shepherd who was handed over to FCHS.
A few days after arriving, Glitz began showing symptoms of parvo.
“The dog almost died”remembers Johnson. “He has recovered, but the dog needs to be isolated for another two or three weeks.”
When first confronted with Glitz’s condition, Johnson admits, “We were in a dilemma of what to do.”
Glitz has recovered a lot now and can be found bouncing around the compound where she remains isolated behind the FCHS building.
However, Glitz’s improved health does not change the danger she poses to the other dogs at the facility; dogs that contract parvo can remain contagious for up to two weeks after being infected.
To combat this reality, Johnson grabbed a rag and started disinfecting as best she could.
She recommends bleach as an effective disinfectant to fight parvo, but adds that it’s important to check carefully that it will actually fight the disease.
“The disinfectant must indicate that it kills the parvo”,she explains.
It took days for Johnson and other FCHS volunteers to disinfect the entire facility.
“(Parvo) is a microscopic virus – how do you know you have everything?”she says.
However, the painstaking work was worth it, considering the severity of parvo.
The virus targets the intestines of dogs. Its onset is marked by lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or low body temperature, vomiting and severe, often bloody diarrhea.
These last two symptoms make the disease particularly deadly, as they can cause severe dehydration and intestinal damage.
Deaths from parvovirus often occur within 48 to 72 hours of the onset of these visible symptoms. As a result, experts and Johnson herself encourage dog owners to seek treatment immediately if something is wrong.
“If (your dog) becomes violently ill with diarrhea, contact someone as soon as possible so they don’t become dehydrated and need to be hospitalized,”Johnson recommends. “They dehydrate until they die.”
Once infected, dogs cannot be directly treated for parvo. Instead, they receive injections that boost their immune systems as they fight off the virus.
Proper treatment gives a 90% survival rate. However, the treatments are expensive – much more expensive than the distemper vaccination that prevents the disease in the first place.
As such, Johnson urges dog owners to get their pets vaccinated if they haven’t already.
“The number one thing is to vaccinate”she said insistently.
She suspects the county’s low vaccination rate is one of the reasons parvo cases have emerged in the area recently.
“The problem here is that there are a lot of unvaccinated dogs,”said Johnson.
According to Johnson, there has already been a case of parvo in Blue Earth and one in Elmore, as well as a few cases in Bricelyn.
“From what I’ve heard, there have been several other cases,”She adds.
To complicate matters, the spread of parvo is difficult to track. Cases do not have to be reported to the state.
However, Johnson has teamed up with Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley to tackle the county’s recent outbreak, keeping the public informed and keeping a close eye on potential cases.
Johnson is also looking forward to the completion of the new FCHS facility, which will make dealing with outbreaks much easier in the future.
“We will have an isolation zone”she explains. “Couldn’t have been a better time to have a new building.”
FCHS’s eventual new home, located in Blue Earth’s former Papa D’s building in the Western Industrial Park, still needs some renovations.
“We are waiting for the drains to be installed in the new building”,says Johnson. She predicts the process will take another six weeks.
Additional renovations will include the installation of a six-foot chain-link fence, parts for which FCHS will gladly accept donations from the community.
“We’re pretty stretched,”Johnson then admits that she is considering everything that needs to be done before the new facility is ready.
However, she remains optimistic, citing the generous support FCHS continues to receive from the community.
“The donations are phenomenal”says Johnson. Recently, Tafco raised nearly $1,000 during an FCHS fundraiser at the Faribault County Fair.
Once the FCHS moves, Johnson is confident the organization’s ability to care for dogs like Glitz will improve astronomically.
“The more we discuss the building, the more perfect it is for us”,she says.
Until then, however, Johnson and his fellow FCHS volunteers can only hope the community takes precautions to prevent the spread of parvo.
Johnson warns, “All it takes is one dog.”