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Parvovirus outbreak has animal shelter on high alert

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Dogs at Pitt County Animal Shelter are given peanut butter as a treat on Jan. 16, 2019. Since a recent outbreak of parvo, staff are checking on the animals more frequently to gauge alertness and loss of appetite in the dogs. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Three dogs at the Pitt County Animal Shelter came down with Parvovirus earlier this month and have been undergoing treatment, according to Animal Shelter Director Michele Whaley.

Parvo is a highly contagious virus that causes an infectious gastrointestinal illness in puppies and young dogs, according to the American Kennel Association’s website. Without treatment, it is potentially deadly. 

Whaley said the dogs were exposed to the virus before entering the shelter, and on Jan. 10 staff recognized the dogs were sick. They began sanitizing everything with bleach while also working to have the dogs removed to receive emergency medical care. 

Two of the dogs were pulled by The Humane Society of Eastern Carolina, and Whaley said she has carried the third dog to different veterinarians for treatment.

Shelby Jolly, assistant shelter director of the Humane Society, said the two dogs they pulled “were taken immediately to our local vet where they have been getting supportive care.

“During the weekend they were brought to the Pet Emergency Clinic to be monitored while our regular vet was closed,” Jolly said in an email. “HSEC staff have been deep cleaning and monitoring all dogs in our care.

Jolly said the Humane Society is asking for donations to help with expenses.

“We are a small, local nonprofit with no government funding,” she said. “Everything we are able to do for Bodie and Biloxi is thanks to wonderful people in our community who have donated to our organization in the past and continue to do so.”  

While the three dogs are expected to survive, Whaley said adult dogs should have never been put into this situation. 

“Parvovirus is something that can be prevented by vaccinating your pets,” Whaley said. “But it is a disease that is deadly if immediate treatment is not sought. The treatment, of course, is very, very pricy and very intensive. They pretty much need 24-hour hospitalization with fluids. 

“We try to vaccinate everybody upon intake to try to keep this kind of situation out of the shelter but the biggest thing I can stress is ... we don’t breed the disease,” Whaley said. “They’re getting it out in our community and bringing it into the shelter.  When Parvo hits, it means it’s already out there in the community.” 

The AKA website said that the canine parvovirus can be transmitted in two ways.

The first is by direct contact through the nose and mouth with infected poop, which can happen when a dog sniffs or licks a surface or another dog that has been contaminated with feces.

The second method of transmission is through indirect contact. The virus can survive on clothing, equipment, on human skin and in the environment. Indirect transmission occurs when a puppy comes into contact with a contaminated person, object, or environment.

The AKA website also said the parvovirus is particularly resilient. It can survive indoors at room temperature for at least two months and is resistant to many commonly used cleaners and disinfectants. Outdoors, the parvovirus can survive for months, and even years, if protected from direct sunlight. This is why hospital quarantine of the infected dog and proper cleanup of the environment are especially important.

Whaley said that prevention is key. Unvaccinated dogs need to stay home and not be around other pets.   

“You don’t need to take unvaccinated dogs out and about to the dog park or walking around the neighborhood or to Petco or Petsmart,” she said.

Whaley said the treatment for the dogs has been expensive for both the shelter and HSEC.  

“It really kind of put a financial hardship on both the Humane Society and us,” she said. “You just don’t have thousands of dollars sitting around to treat the dogs.  Some of the community did donate and we’re very thankful for that.” 

For now, no further outbreaks at the shelter or HSEC have been reported but Whaley said her staff  continues to check for signs of the disease.

“We had to be super vigilant. Any dog that we had for two weeks or more, we gave a second Parvo vaccine,” she said.

“We locked the adoption door,” Whaley said. “We’ve allowed people to come in and look but they have to be escorted because we’re really trying to limit movement. People mean well but when they come and look at the dogs, they put their fingers in one cage and they go to the next cage.”

What bothers Whaley most about the situation is that the dogs are older than the usual Parvo victims.

“What’s kind of scary about this is most of the time you see Parvo in young puppies and all of these were adult dogs,” she said. “You don’t see Parvo much in adult dogs and that kind of makes the situation super scary for all of us.”  

She said that she hopes that no more outbreaks occur and that the protocols in place continue to prevent future incidents.

“I’m encouraged that we caught it early and that both facilities were able to go into those protocols and nobody has shown any signs of illness,” she said. “I hope these are isolated cases that we got early and got ahead of the curve.”    

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR