On Feb. 2 in Indianapolis, for the second year in a row, homeless pups romped on a miniature football field, paraded around to the delight of their potential new families. It was the second annual Puppy Bowl, an event to encourage pet adoption sponsored by the Indianapolis Animal Care & Control agency. By the end of the day, approximately 50 dogs, mostly puppies, had new homes.

A few days later, the first case of canine parvovirus was reported. By Feb. 10, there were four confirmed cases of parvovirus among the Puppy Bowl pups and one had died of the deadly disease.

Media Wilson, a spokeswoman for Indianapolis Animal Care & Control, told the Indianapolis Star, "We took all of the precautions we thought would prevent something like this from happening."

But just what are those precautions?

For the first four months of their lives, otherwise vulnerable puppies rely on colostrum from their mother's mammary glands to protect them from illness, literally riding on the essence of mom's immune system. In the meantime, the wise two-legged puppy parent books a series of parvo vaccines with the vet.

The parvo vaccine series for puppies generally involves three to four rounds of shots, spaced two to four weeks apart, starting at around 10 weeks old and ending at approximately 16 to 20 weeks old. Although parvo is often thought of as a puppy and adolescent dog's disease, the diagnosis is made in adult dogs. And since the virus is so swift and deadly, an annual parvo vaccination is mandatory throughout your dog's life.

In 1978, the parvovirus we know today was first discovered in the United States. By 1980, it was a worldwide epidemic. So now, 30 years later, most dogs have been exposed and have some degree of natural immunity — though in no way enough. According to Wendy Brooks of VeterinaryPartner.com, "Attempting to shield a puppy from exposure is completely futile."

To prevent your pup from coming into contact with the disease, veterinarians strongly recommend that puppies be restricted from public outdoor areas until their vaccination series is complete. There it is, plain and simple. Keep 'em at home.

Unfortunately, Wilson sent the wrong message when she commented to the Indiana Star, "This is not the warm and fuzzy thing you want to happen when people adopt from a shelter, but it happened." The parvo cases in Indianapolis had nothing to do with people adopting from a shelter. Thankfully, people adopt wonderful, healthy dogs from shelters every day without incident.

If I had to guess, I'd say the problem was that these pups spent the day romping all over each other, at probably far too young an age. Fact: Where puppies congregate in large numbers, the odds are someone will get sick. Dog parks, puppy classes, doggie day care, shelters, kennels — doesn't matter. Parvo is a dangerous viral disease that knows no class, race or ethnic divides. It will wreck your dog's immune system, destroy his GI tract and, if left untreated, take his life.

And it's usually contracted right under his nose. Say, for example, you take your puppy to the dog park. So do a lot of other dog owners, and one of them has a sick dog. That dog does his business on the grass by a nice shade tree and his owner promptly picks up after him — ideal scenario. Your dog casually saunters over that same grass later that day, or even the next day or the next. The two of you play Frisbee for a while, take a nap under the sun and then head home. Later that night, after giving you a big kiss — don't worry, he can't infect you, but still, ew — your pooch licks his paws clean. Poof! Parvo.

It can happen as easily as that. That's why Wendy and other vets say keep the pup out of public places until he's completely vaccinated. And that includes PetSmart's puppy classes for too-young pups — 10 weeks to 5 months. Not a good idea.

Parvo kills in one of two ways:

• Severe diarrhea and vomiting lead to extreme fluid loss and dehydration until shock and death result.

• Deterioration of the intestinal barrier allows bacterial invasion of the entire body. Septic toxins from these bacteria result in death.

Symptoms to look for: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy.

Survival is possible with quick, proper and very expensive treatment, but prevention is the less expensive, the more reliable and the only responsible and humane course of action. So vaccinate: It's easy, it's responsible and it's likely to bring you a good decade or more of great joy.


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

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