SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A national chain of pet hospitals said they observed an “alarming” increase in the number of parvovirus cases and hospitalizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analysis of data from BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Hospital’s more than 90 facilities across the U.S. showed a 70% increase in the number of cases in 2020 as compared to the previous five years.

“Parvo” is a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease that attacks the gastrointestinal tracts of infected dogs. Puppies are most at risk but any unvaccinated or partially vaccinated dog can also contract the disease.

Parvo deaths occur within 48 to 72 hours if left untreated but survival rates with proper treatment are nearly 90%.

“We are in the very early stages of analyzing this data; looking for possible causes of the increase and determining what the implications are for this and other preventable companion animal diseases,” remarked James Barr, DVM, DACVECC, Chief Medical Officer, BluePearl Pet Hospital. “Parvo outbreaks pose a serious threat to our canine friends but skipping routine vaccinations could also put human health at risk through the possibility of rabies exposure. As invaluable sources of emotional support as well as sentinels and potential vectors of infectious disease, it is vital pets receive all preventative care vaccines, and owners adhere to the timing requirements of those vaccines.”

During the COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of individuals turned to animals for companionship, resulting in increased fostering and adoption of shelter animals.

BluePearl said some of these shelter animals may have been released without the completion of their vaccines and more people were spending time outdoors, possibly increasing environmental exposure such as going to dog parks.

Other possible causes for the increase include disruptions in puppies receiving full vaccines and financial hardships delaying owners from obtaining timely vaccinations.

“If the U.S. continues to see COVID-19 cases increase or a second wave, this may exacerbate these trends and further harm our pets,” explained Lenore Bacek, DVM, MS, DACVECC, Clinical Programs Manager, BluePearl Pet Hospital. “To prevent further increase, and to ensure this does not happen again, veterinary hospitals and related businesses must continue to be recognized as essential services. Owners must also be vigilant not to bring their dogs or puppies to dog parks or other high traffic areas until fully vaccinated. As we delve deeper into this data, we hope to better understand the complexities of this parvovirus outbreak, as well as shine light on the value veterinary medicine brings to public health.”

Dogs and puppies can start showing signs of the disease between three to 10 days after exposure, but they are often contagious before symptoms arise. If you suspect your pet has parvovirus, immediately isolate your pet and contact your primary care veterinarian.