Article by Renee Dina, Former VIDA Campus Coordinator & Student at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary medicine
When talking to my fellow veterinary student colleagues about parvo virus, I usually get the response of “oh yeah, we see a case or two maybe a year at the clinic where I work.” At the veterinary clinic I work at, it is more a question of “Do we have any parvo cases today?” Working at a clinic in a lower income area, we seem to be in a constant vicious battle with the nasty little virus. I have also traveled around with various groups that offer free veterinary care to communities in need and have seen parvo in these communities. The factors in common between communities with a high prevalence of parvo are lower income areas and unvaccinated dogs.
Parvo virus devastates the intestinal tract of the infected dog, causing vomiting and diarrhea. It is fatal in dogs unless treated, and even with intensive fluid therapy and medications, the dog may still not make it. Once in the environment, the virus is extremely hard to kill. It lies in wait of its next unsuspecting victim. What frustrates me most about this virus is it is very preventable with vaccines. The high incidence of the virus is due to both dog owners not having enough money for veterinary care and to lack of education about vaccinating their dogs.
Puppies should at minimum get their distemper combination vaccine (which includes parvo virus) at 8 weeks old and 12 weeks old, and in areas of higher parvo prevalence, booster with just the parvo at 16 weeks old. Before the second vaccine at 12 weeks old, owners should keep their puppy confined to their own house and back yard. Even though the puppy is adorable and they want to show the puppy off, the puppy’s immune system is not ready to fight off all the diseases found around the neighborhood, especially parvo.
Although I cannot always help in the financial area, I have been striving in the client education department to spread the word about parvo and how to prevent it. Sometimes clients will surprise you and use the last little bit of the money in their savings to make sure their loved pet does not get sick. Hopefully everyone who participates in the VIDA veterinary trips realizes what an amazing difference they make in communities who otherwise would not be able to afford to vaccinate their animals against parvo.