The Peril of Parvovirus

At 124Vet we saw 3 cases of parvovirus in the space of a month – this topic needs addressing.

Canine parvovirus appeared in 1978, killing puppies worldwide. By the time I was going to get my first dog in 1985, an effective vaccine was on the market. For reasons known only to themselves, the breeder had not vaccinated the mother; the litter caught the virus, and only 2 of 10 pups survived. Convalescence took so long that my puppy was 4 months old instead of 2 when we got him. Death comes from a combination of dehydration (uncontrollable vomiting), sepsis (horrific haemorrhagic diarrhoea where the intestinal lining sloughs off), and cytokine storm (lungs flood similar to this with COVID-19 who are doing particularly badly). Today, death rates in the susceptible continue to be high, with most of those untreated perishing. If caught early, and treated aggressively, up to 50% will still die.

For many years, in the UK, parvovirus was barely seen except in deprived areas, where vaccine rates were low. Absence of cases did not mean the virus had gone away; it can survive in the environment (ground) for many months. It meant merely that so many dogs were vaccinated that it didn’t get a chance to pop up (herd immunity). Someone visiting my puppy’s breeder’s establishment, with contaminated mud on their shoe, could have been sufficient to transmit infection. The contamination comes from the faeces of the infected.

In recent years, in the UK, cases are on the rise again. Mirroring vaccinable diseases of children, this is due to waning vaccination rates. A combination of complacency “I’ve never seen nor heard of a dog with it, must be OK around here” and anti-vaccine sentiment “vets over-vaccinate, there’s no need for it, vets just want to make money” is responsible. There are even those who believe the virus does not exist. To those, I say “you are lucky to have never watched a dog dying in front of your eyes from this wretched, PREVENTABLE, disease”.

With regard to over-vaccination – masses of research continue to be performed by the vaccine manufacturers, looking at duration of immunity to parvovirus (and other diseases). In the year 2000, an annual dose of parvovirus vaccine was required, across all brands. Since 2001, the position has slowly shifted. It takes many years of large-scale data collection before one can be sure that it is safe to extend a vaccine interval – imagine the fallout from a premature decision. SOME brands (including the one used at 124Vet) now offer a parvovirus vaccine that lasts 3 years once the puppy course has been completed (1st annual booster). This position is backed up by WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association), who make global vaccine guidelines. This doesn’t mean your dog no longer needs an annual booster, just that the components of the vaccine needed are fewer – leptospirosis (Weil’s disease), for instance, has only 1-year duration of immunity.

The annual booster appointment is also for a full MOT – an excellent opportunity to find and manage conditions before they become critical, such as: dental disease, heart degeneration, arthritis sneaking in, lumps and bumps you may have missed, the ever present battle-of-the-bulge, and checking for adequate parasite control.

If your dog is receiving the full complement of vaccines every year, this should be challenged.

The position in Portugal is not quite the same as the UK. Here, parvovirus is a constant threat. Until the feral and abandoned dog problem is brought under control, there will be a vast reservoir of virus out there. Two of the 3 cases of parvovirus seen at 124Vet in May belonged to the same client. This gentleman had 5 dogs and had just lost his job due to the COVID situation – we did our absolute best to help despite extremely limited funds; both dogs we treated sadly died. A third and fourth became ill; one died. The only one who never got ill was the one that had received a vaccine some 5 years before. Stray dogs along his fence brought the disease.

Parvovirus is real, deadly, and preventable.

Please vaccinate your dogs.

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