I have a good friend who recently called me in a panic. Her married son who lives a couple hours away had left his new puppy in her care while he was out of town on a trip. When he called to check on the pup, he mentioned that she should not allow it to be exposed to any other dogs because it had not yet had all of its vaccinations. She then called me all in a dither over the possibility that the pup may have already been dangerously but unknowingly exposed prior to her son’s phone call. All of her trips out of the house – to work, shopping, visiting friends and family – could have brought home any of a number of dreaded diseases, not the least of which would be the dreaded parvovirus. So what is a mom to do….?
The key things to keep in mind when you have a young puppy around are fairly simple. Don’t invite anybody to bring a dog or another puppy over to play, and conversely, don’t take the puppy anywhere near anybody else’s house whether or not they happen to have any pets. A good general rule to follow is to not allow the puppy to travel anywhere except back and forth to the vet for its vaccinations until at least a week after the final vaccination. (And for those of you who think that the puppy’s vaccinations are all done simply because the breeder said he “took care of all that,” go see a veterinarian for the proper procedure. If you are adopting a puppy at that age when they are commonly let go by breeders, then any vaccination that has been done is strictly temporary. One or two vaccinations in a young puppy are not sufficient to confer long-lasting immunity.) A dog does not necessarily need to have direct contact with an infected animal or carrier to pick up an infection. You or a friend can easily and unknowingly transmit the virus on your shoes or clothes. I recommend to my clients that they completely avoid pet stores (Don’t even walk in the door!) and any kind of event where lots of pets are likely to congregate (pet shows, puppy classes, dog events, pet-friendly hotel rooms, etc.). Parvovirus can be transmitted before an owner is aware that their dog even has a problem, and store and business managers and event organizers generally are clueless. All you need to do is cross paths with somebody who has a sick dog at home and you could very well take the virus home on your shoes. Obviously you can’t live in a bubble, but a few simple precautions hopefully will help. And your puppy CAN pretty much live in a bubble until his vaccinations are complete.
(There is one additional step that you can take if you are bound and determined to be more cautious than the next guy. You can do what we do in our veterinary hospital when we are keeping a parvovirus case in the isolation ward. In addition to a number of other precautions that we take when handling a case in isolation, to avoid tracking any virus outside the isolation area we place a small footbath such as a kitchen sink wash basin with an inch or so of weak bleach water (1 cup of bleach to a gallon of water) in the bottom. A folded towel is then placed into the basin to absorb the liquid so that it doesn’t get splashed all over, and another towel is folded and placed on the floor beside the basin. When leaving the contaminated area, we step into the bleach water basin to get our shoe soles wet, then step out of the basin onto the adjacent towel to wipe our feet clean. The bleach water in the basin must be cleaned and changed on a daily basis, or sooner if it gets dirty. This hopefully provides an adequate barrier between the contaminated and uncontaminated areas. At home you could similarly place a basin outside the entrance to your home for you and any visitors to utilize when entering your house.)
Do NOT avoid visiting the veterinarian. Just don’t walk in with your puppy and plop down in the waiting room next to another owner with a sick dog or puppy. Let the staff know you have arrived but keep the pup in the car until you’re ready to be seen. Yes, it is true in veterinary medicine, just as it’s true in human medicine, that a hospital or doctor’s office offers an excellent place to get sick. But I will vouch for my hospital where I currently work and every hospital where I have worked in the past, that we do everything within our power to avoid contamination of our facility (as opposed to a physician’s office or a human hospital ER) when we have a suspected or confirmed case of parvovirus or any other possibly dangerous case. Veterinarians obsess over such possibilities. No veterinarian wants patients accidentally infected in his/her reception area or to have a reputation as a source of infectious disease. We keep suspect patients out of the waiting area when they arrive; they are moved into an isolation ward as soon as possible when hospitalized; staff members wear gowns and gloves to handle any suspicious cases; and all surfaces are liberally disinfected as soon as possible after possible contamination, even before we know for certain whether there is any actual danger. If you still have any lingering doubts or concerns, call a mobile vet, express those concerns, and have him/her come to you until the vaccination series is done.
As I told the woman who called me, if you keep your puppy away from other dogs until its vaccinations are completed, it is not terribly likely that you are going to pick up any kind of dangerous infection by violating any of the other above suggestions, but the more precautions you take, the better. Changing your whole lifestyle is probably overkill. I don’t think you have to stay home from work or avoid your family and friends. Just use a little common sense. Life is full of risks. Yes, puppies can get sick and die in spite of everything everybody might possibly do, but taking these few simple precautions certainly reduces to a minimum the likelihood of having a disaster. All you can do is whatever you can do!