Canine Parvovirus has been in the news lately, a result of a cluster of cases seen in Chilliwack. Parvo (for short) is a viral infection of dogs that causes vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, dehydration, electrolyte loss and immune suppression. Without proper treatment many dogs go on to die. Puppies between the ages of 2 months and 6 months are particularly susceptible and represent most of the cases that vets see. There is a safe and effective vaccine that prevents infection provided that the vaccine is given at critical times in a puppy’s development. The ideal vaccination timing involves 3 vaccines starting at 8 weeks of age and giving monthly thereafter (i.e., boosters at 12 weeks and 16 weeks of age). Currently we recommend a booster one year later and every 3 years thereafter. This schedule is very effective and departures from the recommended timing can result in a lower level of protection sometimes with devastating consequences.
What does Parvo look like?
A typical scenario is a situation where a new dog owner gets a puppy at 6-8 weeks old that has had one puppy vaccine prior to sale or no shots at all. The seller tells the new owner that the pup has had “all his shots” or gives the new owner incorrect advice regarding vaccines. The newbie owner assumes that the puppy is good to go and doesn’t pursue boosters, or doesn’t understand the importance of timing of follow up shots. A month later the pup is brought to the vet vomiting and in a state of rapidly advancing dehydration and collapse. The pup is admitted as an intensive care patient, lab work is done and IV fluids and other drugs are given. The pup stays typically for 5-7 days and assuming he recovers from this life-threatening disease, goes home with a large vet bill. Parvo pups are a lot of work for the hospital team, and in spite of modern methods and intensive care, some do not pull through. Its far better and way cheaper to vaccinate puppies properly and on time!!
How do we prevent it
Besides a proper vaccination protocol, there are other steps a new pup owner can take to reduce the risk of infection. Steps should be taken to avoid exposure to environments that may be contaminated with the virus. Keep a new puppy at home until he has finished the vaccine series. Owners should also avoid visiting sites where sick dogs may be housed. You can track the virus home on your shoes or clothing. Parvovirus particles are very hardy. They can persist in the soil where an infected dog has defecated for 6 months or more. Do not take a young, incompletely vaccinated puppy for walks on places like the Rotary Trail, parks and playgrounds. Many irresponsible dog owners do not pick up after their dogs and if such a dog is shedding the virus, the soil becomes contaminated.
The good news is that after several decades of vaccinating, the incidence of Canine Parvovirus infections in our community is a fraction of what it used to be. Still, outbreaks occur far more commonly than they should, considering an effective vaccine is available. We just need to get the message out to the segment of the dog owning public that doesn’t know about this serious disease and how to prevent it.
Photo courtesy of Gore Fiendus