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Friday 7 August, 2020

Vet warns of parvovirus spread during rainy season

File photo via iStock.

File photo via iStock.

Pet owners are being urged to vaccinate their dogs against the deadly parvovirus, which is known to spread during the rainy season.

Dr Wade Seukeran, veterinarian at Tenderheart Animals Vet Clinic in St Augustine, told Loop News that he has noticed more parvovirus cases during the rainy season.

‘In the last 25 years of practice I can definitely confirm that I see more Parvo cases in the rainy season. There is evidence to show that the virus can survive for months in the environment and be transmitted to dogs on inanimate objects (fomites) like shoes.’

Dr Seukeran said puppies are especially susceptible - although they receive some immunity from their mothers’ milk, this passes after six weeks.

‘Resistance can be passed from the mother to the puppies through maternal antibodies in the milk when nursing. This only passes in the first few hours so if pups do not nurse directly from the mother in time they will not get immunity.’

‘This immunity will wane after six weeks when the puppy is building its own immune system. So they are vulnerable from six weeks old and vaccinations should start then, or even earlier for puppies that did not get to nurse from the mother, or orphans.’

Dr Seukeran said the parvovirus vaccine is administered in doses which will allow the puppy or dog to be able to combat the virus. However, the mother’s milk may interfere with the vaccine’s efficacy:

‘A vaccination is a dose of the virus which has been modified so the body will react to it by building immunity, but not be overcome by it.’

‘However, up to 16 weeks of age and sometimes more, the maternal antibodies can reduce the puppy's  response to the vaccine while not being able to stop the real virus from infecting and killing the puppy.

He said in most cases, the vaccine is given every three weeks from six to 16 weeks of age, in combination with other vaccinations.

Dog owners should consult with their vets to customise this according to their pet’s needs.

He said another critical issue is quality control.

‘Vaccines must be stored and transported under strict environmental conditions of  temperature and sterility. There is a recorded chain of accountability from the manufacturer to the veterinarian who gives the injection.’

However, he said this may not be adhered to when people buy or sell vaccines over the counter at pet shops and agro shops in Trinidad.

‘Sadly, we see puppies with Parvo, where the owners believed them to have been vaccinated properly, when all they got was 'shots' from someone who could not provide a certificate signed by a registered veterinarian.’


Can an unvaccinated dog survive?

Dr Seukeran said it is possible for an unvaccinated dog that becomes sick to survive, but it is ‘very unpredictable’.

He said the chances of survival will increase based on the level of intensive care given by a trained professional.

‘The virus kills them by wiping out the lining of their intestines and destroying their blood cells so they have no immunity or strength and cannot keep down or digest any food or water. They die a sad, painful, very preventable death.’

Even worse, there is no cure for the virus.

‘There is no cure, so the treatment is to try to reverse everything the virus is doing by rehydrating the body by keeping them on a drip 24 hours a day, tube feeding, antibiotics to fight secondary infections and drugs to stop the vomiting and help to keep food and liquids down.’

‘This requires constant attention and cleaning up the constant diarrhoea and vomiting keeping the patient clean and dry and warm.’

‘Survival rates vary widely in my experience. So you have to prepare for the worst and treat as aggressively as the owner can afford. Then the literature states the survival rate can be as high as 50 to 90 percent.’

‘As you can imagine, the cost of prevention is one tenth of the cost of intensive care treatment.’

He added that some dogs may have mild infections especially if they have had some vaccinations already.

‘They may be able to recover with oral fluids, tablets and force-feeding. The trouble is you cannot predict which will take a nosedive, and when it happens, it happens fast.’

‘A dog that seemed to be getting better can be dead 24 hours later in a pool of red smelly diarrhoea, vomit and owner's tears.’

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), symptoms of parvovirus include:

  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain and bloating
  • fever or low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • vomiting; and severe, often bloody, diarrhoea

Persistent vomiting and diarrhoea can cause rapid dehydration, and damage to the intestines and immune system can cause septic shock.

Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48 to 72 hours following the onset of clinical signs. If your puppy or dog shows any of these signs, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

The AVMA says since parvovirus is highly contagious, isolation of infected dogs is necessary to minimize spread of infection.

Proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated kennels and other areas where infected dogs are (or have been) housed is essential to control the spread of parvovirus.

The virus is not easily killed, so consult your veterinarian for specific guidance on cleaning and disinfecting agents.


Tips for preventing parvovirus:

1. Vaccinate

The AVMA says puppies are very susceptible to infection, particularly because the natural immunity provided in their mothers' milk may wear off before the puppies' own immune systems are mature enough to fight off infection.

If a puppy is exposed to canine parvovirus during this gap in protection, it may become ill. An additional concern is that immunity provided by a mother's milk may interfere with an effective response to vaccination.

This means even vaccinated puppies may occasionally be infected by parvovirus and develop disease. To reduce gaps in protection and provide the best protection against parvovirus during the first few months of life, a series of puppy vaccinations are administered.

Puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age, regardless of how many doses they received earlier, to develop adequate protection.


2. Limit interaction with other dogs until vaccinated

Until a puppy has received its complete series of vaccinations, pet owners should use caution when bringing their pet to places where young puppies congregate (e.g. pet shops, parks, puppy classes, obedience classes, doggy daycare, kennels, and grooming establishments).

Contact with known infected dogs and their premises should always be avoided.


3. Avoid/remove faecal waste from other dogs

Do not let your puppy or adult dog to come into contact with the fecal waste of other dogs while walking or playing outdoors.

Prompt and proper disposal of waste material is always advisable as a way to limit spread of canine parvovirus infection as well as other diseases that can infect humans and animals. 

For more information visit the Tenderheart Animals Vet Clinic on Facebook: https://bit.ly/330EzXM

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