Parvo season is here with a vengeance. It has reared its ugly head at the shelter and in the community.

Parvovirus is a viral contagion that affects primarily puppies, but dogs of any age can be affected by it. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, both which can contain blood and mucus. Affected canines often sit at the water bowl drinking copious amounts of water and then vomit it all back up again almost immediately.

While there is no real cure, it can be prevented by a series of three vaccinations given three weeks apart, starting as young as 5 weeks of age, then boosted annually thereafter.

While vaccinated dogs still may get the disease, the vaccinated dog will have an easier time recovering, or will have a milder version of the illness.

If you suspect your dog or puppy has parvo, do the following: Call your veterinarian immediately and get the animal in to see him or her as soon as possible. A test can be administered to determine if the dog does indeed have the disease and proper treatment can begin. If the test is negative, your dog may have just eaten something that disagrees with him, or may have been poisoned by something he has ingested, so it is critical to figure out what exactly you are dealing with as soon as possible.

If the test is positive for parvovirus, your vet will give you several options, which will include a mild diet, forcing fluids orally, and perhaps subcutaneously, and antibiotics to head off secondary opportunistic infections. He also may prescribe an antiemetic to help your dog stop vomiting.

Depending on how far advanced the disease is when diagnosed, hospitalization may be advised so that IV fluids can be administered. Left untreated, the animals almost surely will die a terrible death, and potentially will infect any other canines in the household.

It is critical that caregivers practice good hygiene as the virus is spread by contact. Take care that hands are washed thoroughly and that blankets are washed in hot water, preferably with bleach. Areas where the animal has been kept also should be cleaned thoroughly with a bleach solution. If the animal has been in the yard area, the virus may stay in the soil up to a year, so take care that unprotected animals are not introduced into the environment until the danger has passed.

If you are thinking of getting a puppy this season, keep in mind that puppies from your neighbor's back yard, the pet store or the shelter all may have been exposed to this dreaded and deadly disease.

Puppies from the shelter will have been given at least one vaccination, but it takes at least two before any immunity at all is present, and the series of three is required for peace of mind.

Be vigilant. Be proactive. Get the dog the entire series of vaccinations as soon as possible, and be prepared to deal with parvovirus if it shows up in your new pet.

You both will be glad you did.

Check out the Paws A While blog at swktalk.com.