Parvovirus threat brings pet owners to vaccine clinic

Veterinary technician Janelle Hall injects Remi, a Pomeranian held by owner Erin Layton of Logan Township.
Veterinary technician Janelle Hall injects Remi, a Pomeranian held by owner Erin Layton of Logan Township. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 26, 2011

They came with their terriers and pit bulls, their Pomeranians and shepherds and just plain mutts.

They came because deadly parvovirus is no joke, and the Tri-State Animal Emergency Center in Woolwich Township threw open its doors Saturday, inviting them in for an emergency parvo vaccine clinic.

"It's a terrible disease," said Robert Wood.

Wood and wife Denise, who live in Glendora, were taking no chances with Taj, a 6-year-old chow with glowing burnt-sienna fur and a very full ruff.

Taj took his shot stoically, but had no interest in a crunchy post-shot treat.

"He loves cheese," Denise Wood suggested.

Alas, Janelle Hall, assistant director of hospital administration and the veterinary technician giving the shots, had no cheese.

"I've had experience with parvo," said Robert Wood, shaking his head at the memory. "The female chow we had, she got sick, and within two days she passed away. It was that fast."

Various strains of parvovirus have been around for decades, but Mark Magazu, chairman of Tri-State, said there had been an uptick in cases this summer.

About 10 dogs recently died of the illness in Millville, Cumberland County, he said, and several more cases have been reported farther north in New Jersey.

The virus destroys the lining of the intestines, allowing bacteria to spread through the bloodstream, Magazu said. Symptoms include heavy diarrhea and vomiting. A less common strain of the virus attacks the heart.

Whether the increase in cases is the result of a mutation in the virus is not known. Magazu said he believed, however, that significant mutation was unlikely - at least from the evidence so far.

"We wouldn't be seeing 10 cases in Millville. There would be a lot more," he said.

The virus is usually picked up from contact with feces and fluids, but it can spread through the air in humid weather, he said.

The best prevention is vaccination. Most dogs get an initial shot with their battery of inoculations as puppies. After that, an annual booster is recommended.

If a dog has never been vaccinated, an initial parvo shot should be followed within three or four weeks by a second. If a dog already has the virus, treatment involves administration of fluids and antibiotics. Without treatment, parvo is generally fatal; treatment is usually successful, but expensive.

On Saturday morning, Tri-State offered the shots at cost, $10, so about 100 owners showed up with their dogs.

Dusty Nugent and his wife, Michelle, who live near Tri-State, arrived with Boomer, a pit bull with gray fur with auburn highlights.

Boomer was alert and rather dignified, happy, perhaps, to be out on a sunshine-splashed day.

"We just moved here from Oklahoma," said Michelle Nugent, 28, who met her husband at Oklahoma State University, where both were students. She's from South Jersey.

Boomer sat quietly during his owners' conversation, clearly pleased with his surroundings, sniffing at the breeze, listening to the talk above.

And why shouldn't he be pleased with such simple things? Boomer is a survivor.

"He was a bait dog," Michelle Nugent said - a dog used in pit-bull fights, a dog used to incite other dogs to kill.

"He's a rescue," she continued, adding that they first saw Boomer five years ago on Animal Planet, the cable-television channel and online site. "He was all torn up."

Boomer had an eye ripped open, gouges on his body, and a very uncertain future. But all that's over and done with; Boomer is living in the here and now.

"We do a lot of traveling," Michelle Nugent continued, "so we board him a lot. This [shot] is more of a precautionary thing."

Chloe, a buff-colored beagle who will be 3 next month, paid no attention to the vaccination process and accepted her crunchy treat very casually.

Dominick Pitone of Swedesboro, her owner, said he had not heard of parvovirus. But his wife, he said, read an article about the upswing of cases and the Tri-State vaccination clinic.

"I said, 'Yeah, let's take her in. It's a good idea,' " he said.

Erin Layton of Logan Township brought her 3-year-old black Pomeranian to the clinic. Remi didn't seem too thrilled to be there. She ignored her treat and occasionally trembled.

Given the seriousness of the disease, however, Layton was very happy to bring Remi to the hospital.

"I heard about it on a friend's Facebook page," she said. "It's a very good idea."

Magazu, the Tri-State founder and chairman, said that given the seriousness of the disease, the ease with which it is transmitted, and the expense of treatment, the center had decided to offer vaccinations at cost for the next two weeks during normal daytime hours.

He urged pet owners to consult with their veterinarians to ensure continuity of care.

For more information regarding the vaccination clinic, call Tri-State at 856-467-0050.


Contact staff writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.

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