Parvo is a highly contagious disease and breakouts of the virus can occur anywhere.

In fact, more than a dozen dogs in Lowell, Massachusetts, have died from canine parvovirus in the past month, and local Animal Control control officials are warning pet owners to be on the lookout for signs of infection. But what should you look for?

Unvaccinated dogs are especially susceptible to the virus, and symptoms include lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea.

The virus is spread through contact with vomit and feces, and it can be carried on anything that comes in contact with these substances, including shoes, pet carriers, and dogs' fur and feet.

When a dog licks any object that's come in contact with the virus, the dog acquires the disease.

While parvo can affect dogs of all ages, most cases occur in puppies, so it's important to isolate puppies from other dogs until they complete the parvo vaccination series at 16 weeks of age.

Certain breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers, tend to have a lower resistance to parvo and can acquire the infection more easily and experience more severe symptoms.

Parvo begins with fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea; some dogs may experience a fever. The diarrhea can cause dogs to become dehydrated rapidly, so dogs that exhibit such symptoms should be taken to a veterinarian at the onset of symptoms.

A blood test or fecal analysis can confirm the presence of the virus, and antibiotics are often prescribed.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are two common symptoms from parvo that may require hospitalization. Severe infections may require blood transfusions.

The good news is that dogs that receive prompt veterinary care recover without complications.

To prevent parvo infections, get your dog vaccinated as a puppy and ensure it receives a booster a year after the initial vaccine series and revaccination every three years.

If your dog becomes infected, seek treatment immediately and thoroughly disinfect objects and areas that your pet has come in contact with.

Parvo can resist most household cleaners and can survive for months. WebMD recommends using bleach as a disinfectant in a 1:32 dilution. After cleaning a contaminated area, leave the bleach solution on the surface for 20 minutes before rinsing.

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