Danbury area vets urge puppy owners to vaccinate for parvovirus
By Eileen FitzGerald
Updated: 03/21/2009 07:18:13 PM EDT
The recent death of Ivan, one of Oprah Winfrey's adopted cocker spaniel puppies, shines a light on canine parvovirus, a highly contagious but preventable virus that attacks the gastrointestinal tract of puppies, dogs, and wild canids like coyotes and wolves.
Puppies in confined places like shelters -- where Winfrey adopted her dog -- are especially vulnerable if their mothers were not vaccinated against the virus or the young dogs were not vigilantly vaccinated during their first four months.
"It's a pretty severe puppy virus that we see more in shelters or in rescue situations," veterinarian Jean Quaintance of the Mill Plain Veterinary Clinic and Animal Hospital in Danbury said Thursday.
In her work with dog rescue groups in the past year, she treated five cases. Three of the puppies lived.
"These days, people are moving away from vaccinations, but the negative implications of not vaccinating are much higher than any issues with the vaccinations," Quaintance said.
"The importance of vaccinating young dogs is huge. You can prevent this disease."
Winfrey rescued a puppy she named Sadie from the Chicago PAWS shelter at the beginning of March. She brought Sadie on her show March 6 with three of her litter mates who still needed homes, and decided to also adopt Ivan.
Sadie was reported to be holding her own in her treatment for parvo.
Canine parvovirus was first identified in 1978 and is seen worldwide. It strips the lining of the intestine, causing a loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, which may be bloody, and dehydration.
Without treatment, many affected animals die. Those with severe cases may die despite aggressive treatment.
Brookfield Animal Hospital veterinarian Silke Bogart doesn't see many cases of parvovirus, because most of her clients vaccinate their dogs in a timely manner.
"Most times you see it in puppies who had a lapse between their mom's immunity and getting their own immunity,'' Bogart said.
That might be because an owner did not follow up on the puppy's series of vaccinations, or was not educated about the need to have the parvo vaccination, she said.
"Parvo strips the intestinal lining. It could regrow, but until it regrows there is no barrier ... so bacteria goes into the bloodstream and overwhelms the animal's system,'' Bogart said.
A puppy gets his first immunity for parvovirus from his vaccinated mother's milk. He must then be vaccinated a few times until building its own immunity by about 16 weeks.
Bogart urged owners not to bring young puppies to dog parks or other public places until they have all their vaccinations. They should only mingle with friends' dogs that are healthy and vaccinated.
Parvovirus used to be a cat virus, but it mutated to canines and spread around the world, killing many dogs before vaccinations were created, Colin Parrish, professor of virology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in New York said Thursday.
Cornell doctors worked on the first vaccine, and Parrish has researched the virus, which has undergone evolutionary changes that have not changed the course of the disease.
Winfrey's puppy was reported to have died from a newer strain of the virus.
"The vaccines are very good," Parrish said, "but they have to be applied very diligently."
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