A unusual brush with canine parvovirus at a Manatee County animal shelter resulted in four euthanized dogs and a seven-day quarantine earlier this month.
While singular cases of the virus are expected and routine for shelters, officials say that an outbreak like the one experienced by Manatee county is not ordinary.
The shelter noticed the first infection on Jan. 11, when a recently admitted dog began to show signs of the disease. Two more cases were discovered on Sunday in a pair of dogs that shared a cage.
An unrelated case on the impound side of the shelter, which is separate from the dogs ready for adoption, was found a few days later.
“We definitely took proactive measures to ensure it was contained and not spreading,” said Chris Weiskopf, animal services chief for the Manatee County Animal Shelter.
Adoptions were halted and the shelter was quarantined for a week to prevent the spread of the disease, he said.
During that time, the facility was heavily cleaned. The grounds were soaked in disinfectant, everything was cleaned “more than once,” and every dog received a booster shot against the virus, Weiskopf said.
The shelter has since reopened and is free of the disease, but Weiskopf warns that it’s not gone for good.
“It’s not like this won’t happen again, because it will,” he said. “We can take all the precautions in the world, and it will still happen.”
This is due to the extremely contagious nature of the virus, said Terry Spencer, an assistant professor of shelter medicine in UF’s online Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program.
Canine parvovirus is a very common, infectious pathogen that most dogs are exposed to at some point in their lives.
“It’s a virus that is shed in an animal’s feces,” said Spencer. “They get it on their paws, they get it on their fur and it spreads all around very easily.”
Parvo is a vaccine dogs receive when they are young because it disproportionally affects immature dogs, but it isn’t impossible to find the disease in more mature animals.
“Any dog that is poorly vaccinated is at risk,” she said.
Untreated parvovirus attacks the lining of the digestive system and the bone marrow, giving affected dogs flu-like symptoms. These include a loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.
The predominance of this illness in shelter animals is due to the unknown health backgrounds of many of the animals, said Weiskopf.
“They were all vaccinated on intake, but vaccination is not a fail-safe,” he said. “It’s not a guarantee.”
At the Alachua County shelter, new animals are also immediately vaccinated.
The facility sees cases of the “nasty disease” about once a month, said Vernon Sawyer, Alachua County Animal Services Director.
“We have determined that most of our dogs have caught parvo on the streets and then were brought into the facility with no sign of it,” he said.
These outside cases serve as a sort of “canary in the coal mine” to shelters, said Spencer.
“The shelters themselves don’t cause parvovirus,” she said. “Parvovirus is a canary to us in that it shows how common the virus is in the community.”
However, the disease is easily preventable, said Sawyer.
“Vaccinate your animals,” he said. “It’s really that simple.”