NORTH ADAMS -- Following an outbreak of a potentially lethal virus, local veterinarians are encouraging dog-owners to take preventive measures to ensure their pets' safety.
Rebecca Mattson, a veterinarian at Greylock Animal Hospital in North Adams, said the practice has seen two dogs affected by outbreak of Canine Parvovirus.
"There's no treatment, there's no cure," she said. "There's only supportive care and prevention."
On Friday, the state Department of Agricultural Resources' Division of Animal Health announced that dozens of dogs in Berkshire and Worcester counties have been affected by the virus, and several have died or had to be euthanized due to severe illness. According to the release, all of the dogs effected by the outbreak had never been vaccinated or were behind on their shots.
"In general, Parvo tends to be a puppy virus," Mattson said. "But with this particular strain, they have seen it in a couple of adult dogs who were behind on their vaccines."
A dog infected with Parvovirus will show gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, Mattson said. A major reason Parvovirus is so devastating, she explained, is that it attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body.
"That includes the lining of the intestine, certain parts of the developing brain, and bone marrow," she said. "It can also suppress the immune system, which it why it can be so fatal."
The virus is spread by the ingestion of fecal material, which Mattson said isn't as hard as people realize -- dogs clean their feet by licking them, she said, and can easily ingest contaminated material.
In addition, the virus, which is spread dog-to-dog, is resilient, she said.
"You have to bleach it or use specific cleaners," she said. "One of the outbreak areas is next to the [Ashuwillticook] Rail Train. Pavement is not automatically safe unless it's been bleached."
The best way to protect their pets is through vaccination, Mattson said. In addition, a test is available to see if a dog is carrying the virus, she said.
Puppies can begin receiving the three shots needed as early as six to eight weeks, Mattson said. Adult dogs should get a booster shot annually, she said. Those with young dogs who are in the process of being vaccinated should avoid high-dog traffic areas, she added.
Lindsay Cermak, a veterinarian at North County Veterinary Hospital, said the practice hasn't seen any dogs affected yet.
"If your dog is acting sick in any way, you should see your vet as soon as possible," she said.
Cermak said her practice is planning on being more vigilant in testing for Parvovirus, including in older dogs.
"If anyone is worried, don't hesitate to have them tested. The sooner you start treatment, the better they do," she said.
To reach Edward Damon, email