This region of Appalachia is plagued with a prevalence of parvo unrivaled anywhere else in the nation. It’s in the soil here. It’s everywhere. And it’s here to stay—some studies have shown that this microorganism can remain viable in certain environments for as long as TEN YEARS.
Canine parvovirus mutated from the feline distemper virus in the early eighties and became one of the most lethal pathogens to ever confront our modern canine population. It is survivable in many cases if treated early and aggressively, but fatal in most without veterinary intervention. It has a fecal/oral route of transmission. . .meaning it is not airborne, but enters the body through the mouth. Critical illness develops quickly—usually within three to seven days. Lethargy, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and sudden death are the most common symptoms. Parvovirus strips the lining of the gut, leading to rapid fluid loss and dehydration. IV administration of fluids can help combat this. DO NOT give raw eggs to a sick dog. Raw eggs contain bacteria which can multiply in a compromised intestine and lead to sepsis. Parvovirus also attacks the white blood cells, leaving a dog vulnerable to bacterial attack. No home remedies have shown any efficacy in treating or reversing the course of parvovirus, and in many cases, have a detrimental effect.
One striking feature of canine parvovirus is that it is very difficult to kill. It’s an “unenveloped” virus, which means it lacks the gelatinous outer coating present around most other viruses. This coating is what the vast majority of household or even hospital grade disinfectants target. Products exist that are effective against parvovirus, such as Accel. But for most situations, regular household bleach mixed at a 1:32 ratio is the most effective compound in existence to kill canine parvovirus.
There are some caveats. Bleach does not kill on contact. To kill parvovirus, a TEN MINUTE WET CONTACT TIME must occur. This means that if the bleach mixture drips away or evaporates, it must be reapplied as many times as necessary for ten minutes. For this reason, foot baths and spraying shoes/skin with a bleach mixture are entirely ineffective to prevent cross contamination. Bleach is also ineffective against organic material. This means that CLEANING and DISINFECTION must be two separate steps. Clean to remove all organic material, then disinfect with a bleach mixture at a 1:32 concentration with a ten minute contact time. No matter what you have heard, spraying bleach in a yard on onto the ground is completely useless against canine parvovirus. If your property is contaminated, consider paving over it with asphalt or concrete, or having the entire layer of topsoil removed. Much easier than either of those two options is to never allow a dog who isn’t fully vaccinated to set one paw in your yard or in your home. Quarantine all new pets in one room of the house for at least 14 days, or until they have at least two DA2PPV vaccines on board. Remember that once the environment is contaminated, it should be considered a parvo “hot zone” for as long as ten years.
If you do come in contact with a parvo-positive dog, don’t bother tracking back over all the places that dog has been in an attempt to disinfect them. Rather, track back over all the places YOU have been, and anyone who had contact with the dog has been. Parvo is spread via fomites, which are contaminated objects or particles. Anything can be a fomite. Common fomites are shoes, clothing, car keys, food or water bowls, shovels, toys, steering wheels, blinker turn signals, car door handles, collars, leashes, furniture, floors, garbage cans. . .basically, almost anything you touched after having contact with an infected dog.
To compound this matter further, a dog can be contagious with the parvovirus without showing any symptoms. Subclinical infections do occur, and in these cases your entire property becomes contaminated without you noticing a single symptom in the dog. Also, a dog begins to shed parvovirus in the stool and other body fluids approximately 72 hours before the first symptom, and up to two weeks after the last symptom abates.
The bit of good news we can tell you about canine parvovirus is that vaccines, administered correctly, will provide STERILE IMMUNITY, which means they prevent infection with this disease altogether, and don’t just lessen its severity. There is also a SNAP test for parvo that can be completed in about 15 minutes in a veterinary clinic. Once a dog recovers from parvo, they can never contract it again. They do not become “carriers,” and they pose zero risk to other dogs once the virus is not longer being shed from their infection.
Distemper is a virus related to human measles. In dogs, it affects the respiratory system, digestive system, and neurological system. It’s fatal roughly fifty percent of the time, and recovered dogs often suffer permanent neurological damage. It’s not particularly difficult to kill in the environment, but can be spread by foxes, coyotes, bear, ferrets, raccoons, skunks, and large cats like mountain lions. In recent years, it has not been as prevalent in Appalachia as other serious canine diseases.
Kennel cough is typically caused by a combination of pathogens, including canine influenza and Bordatella Bronchiseptica. It is a very common disease, not typically serious, but highly contagious. Occasionally pneumonia can develop and this requires veterinary intervention. Kennel cough can often be managed with antibiotics, since Bordatella is a gram-negative bacteria, not a virus. In most cases, it will run its course within about two weeks. If your dog will be exposed to other dogs in social situations, like dog parks and public or private kennels, a Bordatella vaccine every six months is recommended, and in some cases (like boarding kennels,) required.
Mange in dogs is caused by two different kinds of mites. Depending on the mite, it is either highly contagious or not contagious at all. It is very easy and relatively inexpensive to treat, meaning the old home remedy of dousing the dog with motor oil is not only messy, inconvenient, and harmful to the animal, but likely more costly than the medicine a veterinarian would use to treat it.
The first kind of mange, demodex, is caused by a mite present on almost all dogs. For whatever reason—which is probably an autoimmune deficit—some dogs suffer an overproliferation of this mite and begins to experience symptoms. These symptoms include skin irritation, scabs, and hair loss that can be patchy or follow predictable patterns. This type of mange is not contagious to other dogs, other animals, or humans. It is relatively easy to treat using selamectin (Revolution—topical flea treatment,) sometimes in conjunction with a series of ivermectin injections administered by a veterinarian. The recommended dose of selamectin is higher and at a greater frequency than the label recommends for flea control, so oversight by a veterinarian is critical.
The second kind of mange, sarcoptic mange, is highly contagious between dogs and people alike. It’s a scabies condition, causing widespread hair loss and scabby, itchy, thickened skin. Like other kinds of mites, sarcoptic mange mites are readily killed by a high, frequent dose of selamectin, sometimes with concurrent use of ivermectin injections administered by a veterinarian.
Heartworm was considered a “Southern” disease until recently. Hurricane Katrina left thousands of coastal dogs homeless and rescue efforts brought them north in droves. While this saved countless lives, it also introduced heartworm to regions of the country that had never seen it before. Now heartworm has been reported in all 48 continental U.S. states and Hawaii.
Heartworm disease is 100% fatal if left untreated. Treatment itself can be costly and sometimes results in death. There are typically no symptoms of heartworm disease until it has become rather advanced. At that time, the dog is usually quite ill. However, a heartworm test can be performed in your veterinarian’s office which can detect infection long before damage to the heart muscle and large vessels develops. This should be performed yearly, and all dogs should be on monthly heartworm preventative regardless where in the country they live.