LOWELL -- Veterinarians and animal control officials are urging the public to get their dogs vaccinated against the deadly canine parvorvirus after the number of dog deaths from the city's outbreak has risen to 21.
Animal Control Officer Darleen Wood said Monday the number of dogs who have died from the virus has risen to 21, from 15 last week. A total of 22 dogs have been infected, but only one that has survived.
Spread through the feces of infected dogs, canine parvovirus can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and a lack of appetite. A number of clinics in Lowell and Lawrence tackled the issue this weekend by offering vaccines.
Wood said almost 60 dogs received vaccines at the clinic hosted by the Lowell Police Animal Control Division on Saturday.
But she said this will not end the city's parvovirus outbreak within a week, and encouraged dog owners to get their dogs vaccinated.
"This is a regular shot that they get, this is not a special shot that you have to ask for," she said. "So really people need to understand that and they need to get their vet care."
Wood encouraged owners to be conscientious in picking up after their dog, and said owners should call their vet right away if they notice any symptoms.
Another 50 dogs were vaccinated at a free Lowell Humane Society clinic on Sunday, said Dr. Patricia Berchtold of Chelmsford Animal Hospital.
The best thing, she said, is for owners to get their dogs vaccinated at six- to eight-weeks old.
"Puppies are the ones who really get sick with it -- puppies and younger dogs," she said. "So it really is important that they get their puppies to the veterinarian."
She said the hospital usually gets a few cases each year, but not this many. The hospital has not received any of the cases in the current outbreak, Berchtold said, but one dog that tested negative still remains suspicious.
Dogs can live through treatment once infected, Berchtold said, but that can cost $1,000 to $1,200. The typical course of treatment has dogs on fluids and antibiotics for four to seven days, she said.
"If they can get through that, they do OK, but that much time in the hospital is expensive," she said. "Sometimes they need a blood transfusion."
Berchtold advised keeping dogs out of areas with other dogs.
"Walk them in areas where no other dogs are walked," she said. "Don't let them eat anything off the ground."
She said dogs need two vaccines spaced three to four weeks apart to be fully protected.
Wood said Springfield, Fitchburg and the North Shore have had a large amount of parvovirus cases too, while Lawrence has had one. Other clinics in Methuen and Lawrence have also offered free parvovirus shots.
In Lowell, the cause or origin of the outbreak still remains unclear.
"There could be 100 reasons how it started, where it originated," said Wood. "It's almost impossible to pinpoint it down."
The biggest step the office is taking, she said, is making people aware. She said the state only mandates the rabies vaccine, and dogs do not have to have the parvovirus vaccine to be licensed.
"People can still choose to not vaccinate their dog," Wood said. "We can only enforce rabies as far as a vaccine."
Linwood Animal Hospital in Lowell has seen three fatalities in the past few months, said Dr. Emilia Agrafojo, but has not had a case in the last couple of weeks.
People can sometimes get complacent when a disease such as this one is not seen in an area for a while, she said in an email.
"People may become less vigilant about making sure their dogs are up to date on vaccines, because of a 'who sees parvo anymore?' attitude," she said. "When the percent of vaccinated dogs drops too low, then a disease this contagious can spread like wild fire, with devastating results."
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