TOWNSEND -- Parvo is ugly. The entirely preventable disease kills untreated puppies.
The highly contagious virus causes vomiting and diarrhea. In order to survive, the affected animals need expensive, round-the-clock care that includes intravenous rehydration.
Puppies are at particular risk because they are not yet vaccinated and can be exposed to infected feces or g-round. The virus can live in the environment for months.
Vaccination prevents the disease. A vaccinated mother passes some immunity on to her puppies before they are immunized.
Like other series of dog immunization, veterinarians have a recommended schedule for shots and boosters. Puppies need a series of shots to get started, and adult dogs need periodic booster shots.
After a recent rash of canine parvovirus in the state, animal rescue organizations sponsored vaccination clinics. Hundreds of dogs in the greater Lowell area received shots.
Townsend has seen no recent cases of the virus, but a few years ago, the town experienced two outbreaks.
A backyard breeder lost around 20 dogs. The animal rescue league took the others, said Mary Letourneau, Townsend animal control officer.
Around the same time, a litter of nine Labrador retrievers, less than five weeks old, were rescued from another backyard breeder.
At first, Letourneau did not realize the puppies were infected.
"They were in such bad shape," she said. The pups were sick, malnourished, dehydrated and showed signs of neglect.
Then, parvo signs started to pop up. Once one puppy was diagnosed, it was apparent all the puppies would need treatment to survive.
Letourneau isolated the litter from other animals in her care. The veterinarian and technicians from Townsend Veterinary Hospital came over every day to treat the puppies. Every time anyone entered the area, protective clothing, including booties, was worn so the disease would not spread.
"It was eight days from hell," Letourneau said.
"I wouldn't go in the house," she said. "My husband would hand out a sandwich a couple of times a day."
When her youngest son graduated from high school, one of the vet techs volunteered to tend the puppies so that Letourneau could take two hours to attend the festivities.
"The vet didn't think any would survive," she said.
Letourneau proved the doctor wrong. Five of the nine puppies lived.
"It's not a cheap treatment," she said. It costs between $700 and $1,000 to treat each animal.
The town ended up paying over $2,000 to treat the litter. A grant covered part of the rest of the cost, and personnel at the veterinarian office donated some of their time.
After the outbreak, Letourneau stripped and sterilized the kennel room, installed new plywood over the walls and then sealed and painted the area.
"I'm paranoid about parvo," she said.
The best way to keep your dog healthy is vaccination, she said.
Letourneau considers her animals to be at high risk for the disease because of her job. She vaccinates and tests regularly.
The spread of parvo can be limited by cleaning feces and by avoiding areas where dogs congregate such as dog parks. "I wouldn't take my dogs off my property," she said.
Letourneau recommended checking with reputable pet stores or rescue leagues such as the Lowell Humane Society for information on low-cost vaccinations.