When someone mentions puppies, images of wiggly, bouncy furballs often come to mind.
But all too often Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center staff members see vastly contrasting images: puppies vomiting; puppies experiencing extreme weight loss and lack of appetite; puppies fighting for their lives.
Puppies fighting against the deadly canine
Because the virus is so contagious, the often resource-strapped animal shelter was not equipped to deal with parvo-infected dogs until recently. Many had to be euthanized before they were adopted.
«It is a devastating diagnosis, especially for open shelters like ours,» said Pet Resource Center veterinarian Mallory Offner. «It’s hard to contain and spreads easily. But that’s changed now.»
Using grant money from Maddie’s Fund, a nonprofit that raises private funds for shelter medical supplies, the Pet Resource Center sent Offner to Austin, Texas, to receive specialized training that gave her the education needed for the shelter’s first parvo-isolation ward.
For the county’s only shelter that accepts animals regardless of breed, age or medical condition, it’s a game changer.
In March, Snoopy, a 5-month-old mixed breed, was the first success story. Since then, shelter veterinarians have treated 27 dogs. Each one has been adopted.
«It’s had a really positive impact,» Offner said. «The saddest thing is taking in puppies and not being able to do anything to help them. Now we can see them not only get better but go on to their happy homes.»
Last year, 24 dogs came in that tested positive for the parvovirus. All but one had to be euthanized. Of the 32 in the treatment program, three had to be euthanized, one died and another still in treatment.
The virus is easily transmitted, resistant to heat and cold, and can survive indoors or outdoors for long periods. The virus is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces, environments or people. The virus also can contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars, leashes and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs.
In February, the Pet Resource Center converted its euthanasia holding kennels that were no longer needed. In recent years, shelter kill rates have been on a decline thanks to the availability of resources, said Laurn Postiglione, Pet Resource Center coordinator. Funding for the ward came from private donations.
«This new ward is not only able to change the future of dogs that would have died without treatment, but it also keeps our other critters safe from the highly-contagious virus,» Postiglione said.
In the isolation ward, there are about six full size dog kennels with one entrance. The staff wears special protective gear and are limited to what tasks they can do after caring for the parvo-infected dogs.
The deadly parvovirus affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract and can lead to dehydration, vomiting and loss of appetite. Most deaths occur within three days after the symptoms appear.
No specific drug kills the virus in infected dogs, and treatment is intended to support the dog’s body systems until it can fight off the viral infection.
Treatment usually consists of intensive care efforts to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte, protein and fluid losses.
When a dog develops parvo, treatment can be very expensive, and the dog may die despite aggressive treatment. But with early recognition and aggressive treatment, survival rates approach 90 percent, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
«Sadly, that’s why a lot of shelters don’t treat parvo-infected dogs,» Postiglione said. «It’s just too expensive and risky. But for the first time, we’re able to make a real difference.»
Contact Tim Fanning at [email protected]