Shelter employees immediately, upon returning on Tuesday, Jan. 22, discovered the viral problem as eight dogs had died over the long weekend, which included the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday, said Alison Smith, shelter manager.
“This needs to be a wakeup call for the community and for pet owners to vaccinate their pets,” Smith said.
Parvovirus is highly contagious and primarily affects puppies and older dogs with health problems or a compromised immune system, Smith said.
“If these animals had been vaccinated and cared for (by their owners), there would be no issue with parvovirus,” Smith said. “Just like we don’t have polio in people, we don’t have tuberculosis with people, we don’t have mumps and measles. None of any of this would happen if the people were responsible for their animals.”
Currently animals are being held at the facility and any incoming strays are requested to be held until the quarantine concludes. Sick or diseased animals will still be accepted but transferred to neighboring counties.
The parvovirus can be prevented with a series of vaccines that dog owners should be utilizing with other preventative immunizations.
Smith believes a female terrier-mix dog with five puppies had the virus upon being brought to the shelter from the Rossville area.
The female terrier, which had been vaccinated upon arrival, died along with all of her pups, along with two older puppies that were less than a year old. The five younger puppies were too young to have received a vaccination, which Smith customarily gives to puppies ranging from 5 weeks to 6 months old.
Those eight animals had been at the shelter for eight days or less. The incubation period for the disease is 7-21 days, according to Smith. She suspects the older female dog was the origin, which had been abandoned and living under a trailer when brought to the shelter.
Four more dogs had displayed symptoms and were euthanized on Tuesday, Jan. 22, as a safeguard to try and stop the spread to the other 26 animals at the shelter.
Smith sent one of the dogs that died initially for a necropsy on a section of bowel, performed by Dr. Robert E. Smalley, which confirmed the parvovirus origin.
“We do vaccinate all of the puppies that come in here, and some of the puppies that we did lose had been vaccinated,” Smith said. “It takes more than one vaccine and they have to be given over a period of time.”
Administering a three-shot regimen to prevent parvovirus would require each animal to be quarantined for a minimum of six weeks, according to Smith.
The shelter is not designed for extensive amounts of procedures and testing, as a larger ASPCA facility.
Smith and her staff receive approximately 3,500 to 4,000 animals annually, and she estimates that further immunizations would cost a minimum of $35 per animal, for an annual cost approaching $140,000.
“The majority of the animals that come through the shelter are in substandard health,” Smith said. “It is extremely unusual for us to have an animal that doesn’t have heartworms or does not have a plethora of intestinal parasites.”
The staff does treat for those conditions and monitor animal behaviors during the two daily feedings and a daily cleaning of each animal pen. During the next two weeks of quarantine, each pen will be extensively cleaned multiple times each day.
Locally there are occasional vaccination clinics offered by Tractor Supply Co. and Cornerstone Veterinary Services, according to Smith.
Online speculation that the animals became infected from the ground surrounding the shelter is not accurate, as the weather and temperatures had not allowed for the animals to be outside in recent weeks. The virus can exist outside where animals frequent, but not in this case. None of the dogs have been outside to interact.
“If people can’t afford to get annual vaccines on their animals, then they don’t need to have their animals,” Smith said. “They’re not being fair to their animals because they can’t maintain a standard or quality of care that the animals deserve if they are going to be kept by humans.”
It is the second parvovirus outbreak that has occurred since the shelter opened in July 2006.
The previous instance happened in early July 2012, six months ago, with dogs from the LaFayette area.
Two 6-month-old Labrador mix dogs, appearing to be healthy, were brought in by LaFayette animal control and arrived the day before three stray brindle pups were surrendered on a Wednesday. Strays must be held for five days for an owner to come forward.
The following day, one of each type of dog was found dead, according to Smith.
She was fearful initially that one of the dogs had exposed the entire shelter to canine influenza, which could have quickly wiped out the entire population at the shelter.
The outbreak was ultimately determined to be parvovirus, which has had a vaccine since the 1980s. The shelter was closed for two weeks.
A vaccine for canine influenza has only become available in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.