Fix Long Beach Pets opens city’s first canine parvovirus ICU
Rescues—and pet owners in general—who have struggled to find a veterinarian for a dog who’s sick with canine parvovirus will be relieved to know that Long Beach is now home to its first intensive care unit for infected dogs.
Parvo ICU Hospital is located within Fix Long Beach Pets’ facility at 1749 Magnolia Ave. The clinic is separated from the rest of the Fix Long Beach Pets facility and is equipped with state-of-the-art IV pumps that can ensure that sick dogs get their fluids if they wake up or are restless at night.
Staff and volunteers care for the dogs and sterilize the facility around the clock—they successfully cared for over 20 dogs during the holiday week before the clinic officially opened, “not even a week ago,” said co-founder Sherri Stankewitz, with an exhausted chuckle.
The Parvo ICU presently has the capacity to care for 20 dogs and functions as a low-cost option—traditional treatment for the disease can run into the high thousands. The therapeutic process usually takes several days. The survival rate is promising, though—Dr. Andrew Cabrera, the clinic’s director and lead veterinarian, cites 80%, but it has to be caught quickly.
“When they’re already pooping bloody diarrhea, it’s 50/50,” Stankewitz said.
Stankewitz is no stranger to the rescue community. She’s been saving the lives of animals—mainly dogs but also cats and a few horses—for over 30 years, focusing on seemingly hopeless cases. The Parvo ICU Hospital is her newest and possibly most important effort.
What is canine parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus (CPV-2), commonly called parvo, is a highly contagious and unfortunately hardy canine-specific virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract of unvaccinated dogs. Wild canines such as coyotes and wolves and other animals such as raccoons, skunks and foxes can also contract the disease and shed the virus in areas where a domestic dog might walk. It’s a death sentence if not treated immediately.
The virus can live for months outside the dog and is usually resistant to traditional household cleaning products, with the exception of bleach and veterinary disinfectants. Generally, it hits puppies between 6 and 20 weeks old, but adult dogs, particularly unvaccinated ones, can catch it, too.
“It’s usually a young dog disease and can be life-threatening,” Cabrera said. “The smaller the dog, the harder it is to win because they don’t have as much energy and muscle mass as larger dogs to pull from. Sometimes, the bigger the dog, the easier to treat them it might be. But that isn’t always the case.”
Symptoms manifest seven to 14 days after exposure and include persistent vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Cabrera said that once you see your dog displaying any of the symptoms, you should get them to the vet or veterinary ER immediately.
Prevention is a combination of common sense, watchfulness and vaccination. A vaccination regimen typically starts when the dog is 8 weeks old, but it may start as early as 4 weeks old in shelter settings, where diseases can spread to other pets. The initial vaccines are followed by a booster every two to four weeks until the dog is 16 to 20 weeks old. A booster is given the following year and then generally every three years thereafter.
“Some people think that one vaccine is enough, but you need multiple vaccines to build an immune system,” Cabrera said. “Different breeds have different immune systems, and I’ve seen some vaccinated ones get sick.
“This does not negate the importance of vaccination,” Cabrera added, noting that while it’s possible for dogs to become infected after being vaccinated, “it’s extremely rare.”
Studies by University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine researcher Laurie Larson indicated a 91% protection rate against parvo in about 5,000 vaccinated dogs and 86% for dogs under a year old. The lower rate of protection in the younger dogs was attributed to maternal antibody interference with the vaccine; Larson recommends that new puppy owners request a titer test from a veterinarian along with the vaccinations to check the level of antibodies in the puppy.
Prevention is paramount
Forgoing the vaccine regimen can subject a dog to parvo, and Cabrera said that there is no quick fix for the disease—it involves several days in a hospital, a lot of bills—and heartache if the dog dies. He is also adamant that people with new, unvaccinated puppies do not bring them anywhere outside the home where other pets might have been. During a visit to the vet, the dog should be held and not be allowed to run around the floor.
“You don’t want to take them out, say, in restaurants or dog parks to show them off,” Cabrera said. “If the dog is on the floor or ground, you don’t know what dogs have pooped or peed there, and you don’t want them licking their paws. Don’t take them out until they’re fully vaccinated.”
Stankewitz added that rain can wash all kinds of infectious bugs into muddy areas.
“When it’s a heavy rain, please don’t take your dog out,” she said. “Keep them in a cement area until you get all their vaccines. I tell that to my adopters all the time. They also want to take it to their friend’s house, they say, oh, their friend’s dog is vaccinated, but I say, ‘You don’t know if their yard’s clean,’ … and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of that.’”
A germ of an idea
Parvo has been Stankewitz’s archenemy for decades, since the early 1990s when she lived in Venice with her dog Riley.
“I’d booked a trip to London, and then my dog got parvo,” she said. “I didn’t realize that a lot of people came in from everywhere and brought their dogs and used the beach, and she got parvo from it. Back then, you could cash your plane ticket in, so I did that and treated my dog for parvo, and she survived. The treatment was $1,500.”
Years later, when Stankewitz founded Sparky and the Gang dog rescue, she would often have to deal with parvo in her rescued dogs.
“You get a litter of puppies with parvo, and you’re like, how can we as rescues afford it?” she said. “It’s always a struggle with rescuers—you get one that’s got parvo, you treat the sickness and try to keep the other ones at home. Veterinarians are pretty good about trying to help the rescues with parvo—they understand, but most only have room for two or three parvo dogs, maybe four. If it’s a high parvo season, you’re forced to go somewhere else. People think it’s some situation like, ‘Oh, rescues are doing so well because they have all these puppies with the adoption fees,’ but five or six healthy ones pay for one parvo dog. And often, there’s a whole litter full. Then what?”
Thus was born the germ, pardon the expression, of the idea for a parvo hospital. Stankewitz took a deep dive into Google and found two parvo clinics: Pearland Parvo Recovery Clinic, which treats infected dogs from rescues; and Austin Pets Alive!, a major operation in Texas that has aggressive programs for parvo, distemper, FIV and other severe animal diseases.
“They’re very proactive, and they set standards,” Stankewitz said. “So, I emailed them, and I said, ‘Hey, we’re a rescue-slash-animal hospital, and we have a room in the back and we want to make it a parvo room—what are your thoughts?’ And they said, ‘Come on down and we’ll train you,’ and I said, ‘Oh my god.’”
The Fix Long Beach Pets team were on board with the idea. In December, Stankewitz and Cabrera flew to Austin along with Stankewitz’s business partner, Diana Kliche, along with the vet tech team and one other veterinarian.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” Stankewitz said. “We went to meetings, the director came out, their vet techs came. They have a lot of staff, bigger facilities and volunteers. And they’re fully funded—sometimes, they have 60 dogs at a time!”
Austin Pets Alive! serves as a rescue and not as a public clinic for individual dog owners, although people can surrender their sick dogs, which the clinic will treat and adopt out. The Long Beach team wanted to help both pets from individual rescues and shelters as well as the public.
“I want to see dogs with parvo get well, no matter where they come from,” Stankewitz said.
Less stress for rescues
Stankewitz said that in previous years, dogs with parvo that were surrendered to shelters would be immediately euthanized because of fear of contamination. Sheltering has evolved to the point that many of them are willing to wait until 5 p.m. when they close if a rescue group can rush in to get the quarantined dog. Then, of course, there’s the question of where to take the dog because of space limitations in veterinary hospitals—and that’s where Stankewitz wants the Parvo ICU Hospital to be of assistance.
“Rescue groups that read this article will remember having a dog with parvo in the car and calling all these vets to get a dog in, and then you pay whatever it is because you’ve got this dog in your car,” she said. “Then, of course, you’ve got parvo in the car and have to disinfect. But on holidays, most vets are closed, unless you’re an ER.”
That’s how the clinic wound up treating parvo puppies before officially opening. The dogs came in before Christmas and were well enough to go home for the holidays. The clinic rang in the new year with 12 more from rescues and dog owners.
“One family rescued a dog, and it was sick, so they brought it home to their dog, who got it, and now we have both dogs,” Stankewitz said. “They went to a couple of vets and one of them said, ‘Oh, there’s a new parvo clinic,’ so they called me.”
Stankewitz hopes that such clients will help to educate other people about preventing parvo and further spread of the disease.
Backyard breeders, Stankewitz said, can also be root causes of infected dogs and the spread of the virus, with many of them focusing on breeding them to sell. They may not spend time or money on vaccinations and other preventative health measures.
“These puppies we have now are possibly from backyard breeders—they had one vaccine but then did not finish the vaccines,” she said. “They wanted to sell them, but then cherry eye [a common and often breed specific glandular condition that can be corrected by a veterinarian] just popped up in the dogs. And they’re harder to sell because they have a ‘deformity’ and no vaccine. People will pay thousands of dollars for a dog and not get the vaccine.”
Although Stankewitz wants any dog with parvo—including dogs from backyard breeders—to come to the Parvo ICU Hospital rather than die of the illness or from euthanasia, she realizes that their welcoming policy could be a double-edged sword.
“We could run out of room, but I’d rather they come here and treat them rather than sell them,” Stankewitz said. “I don’t want them not treating them and then selling them to people who don’t know that they have a parvo dog and spread it everywhere.”
Treatment protocols also include sunshine therapy
Cabrera described the protocols for treatment, both at the clinic and at home. When a dog comes in, they get weighed and fed, checked for dehydration and given IV fluids if they need them. They get IV antibiotics and anti-nausea, and feeding, which may be by syringe.
“The routine after that is pretty much repeat, clean up poop in between, and continue to feed them,” Cabrera said. “We wait for their appetite to come back and their stool to be back in form. At that point, I’m not worried about them passing away.”
Some dogs can be treated at home, which can be helpful to the owners because the bill won’t be as large. If an owner cannot afford any treatment, they have the option to relinquish the dog. They’ll be treated and adopted out when completely well.
Meanwhile, Stankewitz and the rest of the staff busy the dogs with enrichment therapy, mixing up tasty meals in the blender, cuddling them and giving them music therapy. Bright sunlight through the skylight in the parvo room surely boosts their little moods. Stankewitz said, not surprisingly, that she’d like to provide them a TV.
When the pups are ready to go home, they get a bath in the parvo room so there’s less virus shedding. Then, they’re taken, wrapped up, to the parking lot so they won’t contract anything else.
“Sherri and the vet techs have been doing the hard part, camping out here, making sure the puppies get 24-hour care,” Cabrera said. “But anyone who’s worked with parvo puppies and treated them knows it’s not easy work. You have to keep things as sterile as possible, as clean as possible, syringe-feeding the dogs—and you’re cleaning poop 24/7. And sometimes, you’re watching them die. Which sucks.”
Cabrera hopes that the clinic’s existence will bring down the cost for parvo treatment at other hospitals—but not be seen as a substitute for dog owners to prevent the disease, including its spread.
Not a quick fix
“We are going to be a lower-cost clinic, but we don’t want people to think that we’re just here to fix the problem,” he said. “The point of the clinic is to use this as an opportunity to educate them, to prevent parvo, because it’s an almost 100% preventable canine disease.”
Stankewitz also hopes to encourage proactivity on the part of humans. In addition to printing informative literature, she’s planning a link for online groups where people can apply to help with their bills. She also wants to find time to track areas of Long Beach that are the most impacted with canine parvo cases, a tool that she also learned about in Austin.
Of course, her patients will always be of the highest importance and enjoy impeccable, loving care.
“And I hope other parvo centers open—everywhere,” she said.
The Parvo ICU Unit would be grateful for monetary donations as well as boiled chicken, canned baby food, canned dog food with a gravy base and fleece blankets, which can be dropped off or delivered to the Fix Long Beach Pets address at 1749 Magnolia Ave.
If you have a dog that you suspect has parvo, call or text 310-621-1417.
These Sparky and the Gang dogs are all healthy, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ready to go home. They’re staying with fosters, but they’d love to make it permanent with someone. To adopt a Sparky doggie, enter your email contact here.
You can see the whole Gang at this link.
Foster for a while—or furever!
The more than 300 LBACS dogs, cats and bunnies need your help, as The Scratching Post stresses. The city of Long Beach’s commitment to Compassion Saves means that animals in our care can live and thrive. We need our community to show its support of Compassion Saves by fostering, adopting, volunteering, and donating.
LBACS has reached urgent capacity with the influx of incoming animals to the shelter during the holidays. There is no more kennel space to take in more dogs at the shelter. To maintain the LBACS Compassion Saves model of helping those in greatest need—the sick, injured and abused—your help is needed to keep the healthy and lost pets out of the shelter. If you are interested in adopting, please email [email protected] or apply to foster here.
If you’ve always wanted a pet but aren’t sure if you’re ready for a lifetime (the animal’s) commitment, or if you’re past the pet-roommate days for any reason, fostering might be a great way to go, especially with one or more of the kittens popping up during kitten season. Every one of the organizations listed below is in desperate need of fosters who’ll social them and help save their little lives. Who knows—maybe one of those lives will change your mind about the not-ready-for-roommate thing.
These nonprofits also regularly feature cat, dog and rabbit adoptions. As of now, adoptions are mainly by appointment. Click on the links for each rescue in case of updates or changes. These organizations operate through donations and grants, and anything you can give would be welcome. Please suggest any Long Beach-area rescues to add to the list. Keep in mind that the rescues are self-supporting and need donations and volunteer help. Most of them cannot accept found or unwanted pets. Contact Long Beach Animal Care Services for options.
German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County
Long Beach Animal Care Services
Long Beach Spay and Neuter Foundation
Pet Food Express Cat Adoption Center
Sparky and the Gang Animal Rescue
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify two quotes from Sherri Stankewitz and to correct the amount of virus that can be shed after bathing a dog.
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