The Department of Environmental Management is alerting dog owners in the state of an unusually high number of cases of canine parvovirus being reported to the RI State Veterinarian's office. Canine parvovirus is required to be reported to the state veterinarian if the diagnosis is made in a dog that originated in an animal shelter, municipal pound, boarding kennel, or pet shop. Several municipal pounds and private veterinarians have reported parvovirus as well as members of the general public. Reports made by the general public are voluntary and are useful for disease surveillance purposes. The virus is considered to be always present in the environment; however, the high number of recently reported cases suggests that there is more of it going around than usual. The majority of the reported cases are in juvenile dogs that have not been vaccinated.
Parvovirus can cause severe disease in dogs that are not immune to the virus. Immunity can come from vaccination or from surviving a natural exposure. The usual signs of parvovirus infection in dogs are related to the intestinal system. Usually dogs will vomit and have diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it. The diarrhea and vomiting can be severe and result in dehydration and death. Dogs with parvovirus infection can also develop other infections because the virus can weaken their immune system. Sick dogs should be immediately brought to a veterinarian for appropriate treatment.
Infected dogs can shed tremendous amounts of virus, which in turn can infect other dogs. Dogs which have recovered from parvovirus can continue to shed virus for weeks after recovery. The virus can be spread easily on feet, shoes or other objects. Dogs typically contract the virus by ingesting it. The virus can live for a long time in the environment, but using household bleach according to label directions as a disinfectant kills it. Bedding should be machine-washed and dried. Contaminated lawn and other porous surfaces should be avoided. Some breeds of dogs such as Pit-bulls, Rottweilers, and Labrador Retrievers are more susceptible to infection. Cats cannot contract canine parvovirus. The virus does not infect people.
According to Rhode Island State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, DVM, "The best protection against parvovirus is to make sure your dog is properly vaccinated. Treatment can be very intensive and may not always be successful, so vaccination is the best strategy." DEM advises all dog owners to consult with their veterinarian to ensure that their dogs are currently vaccinated to minimize the risk of this potentially deadly disease.
Veterinarians reporting confirmed positive cases of the virus should contact Dr. Marshall in DEM's Division of Agriculture at 222-4700 ext. 4503.