Parvo Outbreak in Southern Humboldt

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Kim McPherson, Practice Manager at Garberville Redway Veterinary Group. The Southern Humboldt area, she explained, is experiencing a Parvo epidemic. “I don’t think people understand how virulent and prevalent this virus is.”

Parvo or canine parvovirus is very contagious and relatively new.  In the late seventies, it was identified and spread worldwide in just a few years. It often causes diarrhea and vomiting. Other dogs pick up the disease from contact with the feces, vomit, or soil that has been infected by the virus. The virus can even be spread by shoes and clothing that have come into contact with an infected animal. The virus continues to be able to infect dogs for over a year after it is deposited in an area. It can be deadly, especially to puppies.

According to McPherson, the recent outbreak began early in May. Two puppies from the community were sick in town.  Kathy Epling, a local business owner, arranged for the puppies to be seen by McPherson’s office. McPherson says the two puppies were brought in by their owners. “One,” she said, “died in my arms before we could get it to the exam table.”

Epling says that the puppies were given by a local owner to both homed and homeless folk and the disease spread throughout the area in all areas of the community.

The virus, McPherson believes, is now infecting areas of Garberville where the puppies were and some homeless camps as well as other areas where homed families’ animals have contracted the disease. “Everywhere a puppy that is ill with Parvo goes,” explains McPherson, “it leaves a trail of parvovirus anywhere those puppies have bowel movement or vomit.”

Epling who printed up and laminated signs about the outbreak said that “Campers have cooperated with me in putting notices at places where the dead pups lived, because parvo stays in the ground so long and they don’t want others to suffer; there is no way of telling that there was an infected pup at a site without some notice.” 

There is a vaccine for the disease. Colorado State University recommends that a puppy have its first vaccine at around six to eight weeks. Then another in three to four weeks. Then a third again in three to four weeks. Then at one year and every three years after that. Until the puppy has had its 4th shot, it can still catch the disease.

McPherson points out that a local Rottweiler puppy had three of its vaccines.  “The puppy,” she says, “was acting a little funny.  We put him on IV’s, gave him injections.  He continued to go downhill and go downhill. He died in three days.  It is a horrible way to die…. Watching that kind of deterioration in a puppy is heartbreaking.”

Also McPherson notes that adult dogs can be susceptible. A local business owner, she said, hadn’t realized this and her adult dog contracted parvo in this recent outbreak.  It usually isn’t as bad for the adult canines, though McPherson explained, “they have a better chance.  Puppies dehydrate so fast.  The bigger the dog is, the better chance we have.”

The New Wine Fellowship gives out vouchers good for a full set of shots for parvo and rabies.  McPherson’s office tries to help with those who can’t afford treatment for ill animals. “We had a really nice cushion for a while.”  There was a crisis fund for helping local animals in need.  The office had a jar on the desk and pet owners would add money.  

McPherson says, “We let it build up. We would use those funds to cover the care– antiemetic, anti diarrhea, antibiotics, iv fluids, amoxicillin, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, etc. ”  But the process of treating dogs with parvo is expensive. She says that the animals should be hospitalized and the office tries to help. “We give what we can. There has to be a point though where we can’t give anymore.”

When the epidemic started, the fund had over 2000 dollars. Just last week it was down to $31. Then, explained McPherson,

It got back up to $124 but then I used it up on Saturday [the 15th] for a homeless girl’s dog. I sent her “home” with antibiotics and subcutaneous fluids and taught her how [to administer the medicine.]…. And she hugged me for helping her but I felt [terrible] because I’m sending her out there with less than perfect care and she is grateful. …It would have been better to have been hospitalized.  

“I don’t mind paying occasionally out of my own pocket,” said McPherson. But, she adds, “For every one that comes in, everywhere they’ve been will have that virus.”  More dogs are coming in and the crisis fund is depleted. “There have been over a dozen in just the last month.  We had 1 or two puppies in isolation since that started.  Whoever treats them has to be sterilized.”  One staff member is dedicated to taking care of parvo. The room where the animal is must be sterilized with bleach. It is a lot of extra work but, she says, “we feel a lot better when one lives.”  

Note: The Garberville/Redway Veternary Clinic offers low cost vaccinations on the second Saturday of every even numbered month–kennel cough, parvo, rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, and heart worm testing.     


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