Talk about the flu and Ebola all you want, but there is a disease in the animal welfare world that makes my skin crawl with fear: Parvovirus.
Parvovirus, or Parvo, is not transferrable to humans like rabies, but it is very often fatal, and the ease with which it spreads is what gives me the heebie jeebies.
It isn’t exactly airborne, but the disease can live in fomites, or contaminated objects such as toys, bedding, even dirt and concrete for years. People can even be carriers. From the fomite to the dog, Parvo goes wherever the dog goes – the yard, the neighbor’s yard, the pet store.
As a well-meaning person pats one pup, they are unknowingly contaminated with Parvovirus, which clings to their clothing and skin and then to other pups they handle.
Puppies are more susceptible to Parvo than adult dogs and millions die from it every year. Being sure that your dog gets several rounds of vaccines during puppyhood and stays current annually is the most effective way to prevent Parvo.
There are other precautions that you can take to reduce the likelihood of your young puppy being exposed to Parvovirus.
Don’t take a pup to public places until he has all his puppy vaccines. Yes, that does mean the local pet supply store, the park and soccer matches. I know it is tempting to show off a new puppy, but it just isn’t worth the risk. Parvo can live in the dirt and porous flooring for months.
If you must take your puppy somewhere (for instance, to receive vaccines!), especially if it is a pet populated place, keep him off the floor. Don’t let other dogs come near your pup, and don’t feel compelled to pet other people’s dogs or let people pet yours.
In the shelter world, controlling Parvovirus is even trickier. The number of dogs and people with dogs is greater than most places, so the risk of Parvovirus entering our shelter is greater, as is the likelihood of spreading it throughout our building. We take serious steps to prevent that from happening.
Dogs are quarantined as they enter our building until we can be sure they are safe to mix with the rest of the population.
There are 14 ways to get in and out of the building, each designed with a specific population in mind to reduce the spread of disease.
In the quarantine areas of our building, where disease is most likely, we have footbaths to disinfect the soles of our shoes before moving from one area to the next. As I walked around the building counting doors, I used four of them.
Our building has a closed design which cuts down on the number of incoming insects. Flies’ eating and elimination behaviors make them perfect carriers for Parvo and they can travel up to 12 miles a day. Keeping our pets safe is keeping our neighbors’ pets safe, too!
Lastly, while puppies can socialize with each other, we don’t let them fraternize with other dogs until they have received an adequate number of vaccines. People have to be careful about the role we play in socialization, too.
For these reasons, we have developed a new offshoot of our Phideaux University program, Phideaux Preparatory School, where puppies can safely get the socialization they need while they are still growing and building up immunities to deadly disease.
Phideaux Prep is a dedicated, easily disinfected room, where puppies can play and even be trained by staff or volunteers. The person working with them is sent home directly after they finish. They thoroughly disinfect the room and their hands, step in the nearest footbath and through the nearest exit, taking whatever harmless to humans but deadly to dogs germs they might have picked up with them.
We have a mantra at the SPCA with regards to Phideaux University: “It is not enough to offer these dogs life; it is our responsibility to see that they have a life worth living while inside the shelter and every opportunity for success in a permanent home.”
Phideaux Preparatory School is our latest attempt to balance our dogs’ mental wellbeing with their physical health.
If you’d like to see the fruits of our labor in the form of amazingly well behaved dogs, contribute to their development, find out more about disease prevention, or sign your own dog up for training or vaccinations, call us at 803-648-6863, visit us in person at 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken, or virtually at www.LetLoveLive.org.
Chrissey Miller, CAWA
SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare