Veterinarians are warning pet owners to vaccinate their puppies against a possible “petdemic” after a parvovirus outbreak killed up to 60 dogs in northern Michigan last month.
The highly contagious virus, which first appeared in 1978 and is harmless to humans, can kill infected canines within three days. Health officials suspect it came to Michigan from Louisiana.
Dr. Tom Pool, a former head of the U.S. Veterinary Corps, says owners must vaccinate their dogs as soon as possible because parvovirus is “completely widespread and difficult to disinfect.”
“You can walk it into your home on your shoes,” Dr. Pool said. “The virus attacks the rapidly dividing cells of the intestine and bone marrow. Profound, life-threatening diarrhea, vomiting, and anemia can result.”
The senior veterinarian at the Center for a Humane Economy said that parvovirus hits puppies the hardest because the colostrum they consume in their mothers’ milk blocks the vaccine from working. That means young dogs need up to four parvo vaccinations in the first four months of life, Dr. Pool said.
Puppies typically get annual distemper combination vaccine boosters, which include the parvovirus vaccine, for the first three years of their lives.
But not all pet owners keep their dogs boosted, as Michigan’s outbreak has shown.
On Aug. 22, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirmed Michigan State University veterinarians found canine parvovirus in lab samples of a mysterious “parvo-like illness” sweeping northern parts of the state.
“Dog owners need to ensure their pet is up to date on routine vaccinations as it’s the first step in keeping your pet healthy,” State Veterinarian Nora Wineland said in a statement.
The department is advising owners to vaccinate their dogs before they meet other canines, keep sick pups at home and clean up after their pets in public to keep the virus from spreading.
Melissa FitzGerald, director of Otsego County Animal Control, told CBS News on Aug. 23 that 30 dogs in her county had died from the illness. Clare County had at least 10 deaths and there could be more, she said.
Dr. Zac Pilossoph, a consulting veterinarian at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, says it’s important to keep new puppies at home until they get all their shots.
“If your dog is a puppy and hasn’t yet been vaccinated, it is recommended to avoid public dog parks or anywhere else where there may be other dogs who have an unknown vaccination history,” Dr. Pilossoph said. “Parvovirus is often an extremely difficult disease to treat, and it requires several days of hospitalization.”