Dog owners and veterinarians in the Merced area warn of a deadly new virus that's killing animals.
Parvovirus, a virus spread through dog feces, was first identified in dogs in 1978 and has been a problem ever since.
But the new strain, first seen in the United States in 2006, has reared its ugly head here.
"This strain seems to be worse than what we normally see," said Dr. Leah Hill, a Merced veterinarian and owner of Animal Medical Center. "The symptoms come on more aggressively, and the prognosis is poorer."
Parvovirus is a disease that causes vomiting, lethargy and diarrhea, sometimes bloody, in dogs. Young puppies are usually more susceptible to the virus, but Hill said that isn't necessarily true with the new strain.
"We are seeing 6- to 12-month-old dogs coming in with it now," Hill said.
Dr. William Bell, owner of Santa Fe Pet Hospital, has seen more cases of parvo in the past two weeks than he typically does in three months.
Bell said some owners feel safe if they keep their young, unvaccinated dog at home, but parvo can be spread without the dog going anywhere.
"We think it's started by flies," Bell said. "The dog doesn't need to be around other dogs to get it."
Hill said once the dog gets sick, it deteriorates fast. "They can die within 12 to 24 hours," she said. At Hill's clinic, which includes an emergency, after-hours clinic, six to eight dogs a day have been coming in with parvo over the past couple of weeks.
Usually, vaccinations will stop the virus in its tracks, but with this new strain, some partially vaccinated pets are coming in deathly ill. But Hill said no animals that have had the entire series of vaccinations has come to her clinic.
Bell said the virus is indiscriminate -- it has attacked 1-pound, tiny puppies and 80-pound, half-grown dogs.
Both Hill and Bell urged dog owners to make sure their pets' shots are up to date.
"Puppies should get their first shots at six to eight weeks," said Hill.
If dog owners choose not to get the vaccinations, it could mean more than just a sick puppy.
"It costs about $200 for an entire series of shots for puppies," Bell said. "Compare that to $1,000 to try and save them."
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at
(209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.