Guest column: Parvovirus: Is your dog protected properly?

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Traci and I have worked in the veterinary field for over a decade and a half in my capacity as a certified veterinary technician, practice manager and now, partner. Over these years, I have witnessed a devastating disease destroy many beautiful puppies and dogs. I have cared for and cried over many as they succumbed to this very preventable disease.

For those unfamiliar with this disease, it most commonly affects unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated puppies up to the age of six months. Adult cases have been seen sporadically as well. The virus itself attacks the gastrointestinal lining, breaking it down so the body can't absorb nutrients or water. It also attacks the immune system, attacking the bone marrow, so the body no longer has the defenses of the white blood cells to protect it. Dogs who become infected usually start to show outward signs three to 10 days after exposure. Lethargy, loss of appetite and vomiting present first, followed by watery explosive diarrhea, usually bloody. We commonly see increased cases of parvovirus in the spring and late summer, when puppies are losing the natural immunity provided by the mother at the time of birth.

Parvovirus is a very hearty virus that remains stable in the environment. It is transferred through the feces of infected dogs. Unaffected dogs can come in contact with the virus as they sniff their way through the world. There does not have to have direct contact involved. However, if one puppy is infected in a litter, there is a pretty good chance others will be too as it is highly contagious.

Like all viruses, there is no cure. Some may survive, although rare, but many won't without intervention. Hospitalization and supportive care is the best treatment, offering an 85 percent chance of recovery for severely infected dogs.

Preventing the disease is easy, if done correctly. Vaccinations given by a licensed veterinary professional is the only way to properly protect your puppy. Of all the cases of parvo I have personally seen, 95 percent of the cases had been given self-administered over-the counter vaccines. The other 5 percent of cases I've seen came from owners who failed to follow through on the vaccination schedule. Unfortunately, none of these owners knew any better. No one explained the dangers of over the counter vaccines. While they saved $10 on a vaccine by doing it themselves, they ended up spending upwards of $1500-2000 trying to save their pet with no guaranteed outcome.

If you have a puppy, I am asking you, please contact a veterinary clinic and schedule an appointment. There are many to choose from in Flagstaff or we are right here in Williams. I don't care where you get them done (however, we do LOVE puppies), just please, for the sake of your pet, get them done properly and safely.

Top five reasons not to purchase over-the-counter vaccines:

1. Vaccines purchased over the counter are often handled poorly and are ineffective. You have no way of knowing how the vaccine was handled prior to you purchasing it.

2. Vaccines administered to an unhealthy animal, or an animal who is too young may be ineffective or harm your pet.

3. Severe allergic reactions can happen following routine administration of a vaccine. Many reactions require emergency intervention immediately or can become fatal. The closest emergency clinic available is in Flagstaff.

4. Most veterinary hospitals, boarding facilities and grooming facilities do not recognize self-administered vaccines.

5. Parvovirus is an expensive disease to treat - most veterinary clinics charge anywhere from $1500 and up to treat your pet. And that is with no guarantee of your pet's survival. Vaccines at Williams Veterinary Clinic are safe, effective and affordable. We offer Parvo/Distemper and Rabies among other services.

Traci Fulkerson

Williams Veterinary Clinic

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