GRAND FORKS - A highly infectious disease that could kill puppies and older dogs has forced a Grand Forks pet store to temporarily shutter its doors.

Nancy Beneda, the owner of Pets by Nancy on South Washington Street, told the Herald on Friday that she'll reopen when she can determine that it's safe.

The disease, commonly called parvo, has killed one of the 22 puppies she had for sale but the others appear to be OK, she said. Signs of parvo infection may not be noticeable for as many as 21 days though, so she said she'll have to wait and see.

The parvovirus can spread by bodily fluids, from dog poop to saliva, so a person handling an infected puppy or even walking on carpet where the puppy has been could unknowingly bring it home to his own dog.

Such is its ability to spread that Carol Hagen, a vet at Petcetera in Grand Forks, said staff at her office decontaminate their shoes before leaving the isolation area where infected dogs are kept. Staff also place towels soaked in a bleach solution at the doorway to the isolation area, she said.

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Parvovirus is not a common disease among dogs because parvo vaccines are part of a standard package of vaccines that dogs get, Hagen said. Petcetera has had three cases this year, she said, and that's unusual.

There haven't been any reported parvo cases at pet stores in the area for years, said Richard Klockmann, an environmental health specialist at Grand Forks Public Health.

Beneda said she vaccinated all her puppies, though her vet tells her that, in puppies, the vaccines don't always take right away.

There are no city laws or state laws that require pet owners to notify customers of a parvo infection. Pets by Nancy doesn't have a sign that says so, but Beneda said she is telling all her customers.

Parvovirus can infect dogs, wolves, coyotes and raccoons but not people. A variant infects cats.

When a dog catches the disease, it attacks the lining of the intestine, according to Hagen, so the first noticeable sign of its presence would be vomiting and diarrhea, usually with blood in it.

There is no cure for the disease any more than there's a cure for the flu. Vets will administer IV fluid to sick dogs to prevent dehydration, but the dog's own immune system will have to fight off parvo. Puppies and older dogs are most vulnerable because their immune systems are weaker.

In Grand Forks, most dogs are already vaccinated so the risks of infection are relatively low. But no one vaccinates coyotes or raccoons, so the disease may spread from their feces or other bodily fluids, according to Hagen.

For a pet store, the problem is magnified because many dogs are kept close together. There are more people going in and out, as well.

At Pets by Nancy, Beneda said she keeps puppies in a room separate from the rest of the store and will be replacing the carpeting in that room. She said she'd been told by vets to keep the puppies away from the public for a while, but none told her to close the store.

Hagen, though, said "I would probably close down for a period of time because of how serious the virus can spread and not knowing if the other puppies have an infection. If one gets sick, you wouldn't know for one or two weeks if the others are sick."

Despite the virulence of the parvovirus, there is no law that governs what a pet store must do in case of an infection.

Susan Keller, the state veterinarian with the North Dakota Board of Animal Health, said the state doesn't require stores to report the disease because it's a common disease. Pet store owners who want to keep customers happy would want to keep quarantine infected dogs and alert the customers, she said, but the state doesn't require it.

Most of the diseases that require a report to her office are those that affect larger animals, such as brucellosis or equine infectious anemia. Among diseases that affect pets, rabies is one that must be reported, she said.

Klockmann said the city doesn't have any laws either. Typically, he could talk to pet store owners and persuade them to take action or refer them to the Board of Animal Health, he said.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.