Deadly parvovirus is back in the Quinte area

This might be too little, too late, but pet owners should be made aware that parvovirus is once again killing dogs in our area.

I don’t have a reliable tally from across the region, but know firsthand of ten cases of parvo in puppies reported at just two local veterinary clinics over the past several months. With nearly 20 area clinics, the total number is likely a lot higher. Several of the affected dogs died, some were euthanized and most that survived required extensive hospital care. Only one that I know of pulled through with home nursing and oral medications.

For the last several years, parvovirus has been seen only sporadically in our region. It had become so rare that our testing kits kept going out of date. It’s hard to say why this latest outbreak is occurring. Immunology experts – the scientists who know all about response to infection – generally refute periodic rumours about the emergence of new “killer strains” of parvovirus. There is simply a natural variation in how aggressive the virus is from one year to the next.

Regardless of the “strain”, vaccination is the only effective way to protect your dog against parvo. A virus that attacks the fast-growing cells lining the intestine, parvo causes severe bloody diarrhea and vomiting. It is spread in fecal matter – um, poop. It lives for ages in the environment and is only killed by prolonged exposure to sunshine or the application of strong disinfectants such as bleach.

Depending on the age of the puppy, two to three vaccines are needed a month or so apart, to provide early protection against this deadly disease. Follow-up adult vaccines are usually recommended at one year, then at least every three. The virus is out there in our parks, on the lawns beside sidewalks, and sometimes on the soles of our shoes. It’s hard to ensure against exposure.
I do wonder how much this latest outbreak can be blamed on myths about vaccinations. Exaggerated reports about side-effects and misinformed opinions questioning their usefulness scare people off. Commonly used vaccines do much more good than harm.

The reason we rarely see many of the diseases we vaccinate against – rabies and distemper, for example – is simple. Our vaccines are effective. However, they are useless left sitting in the fridge. If you have a dog of any age that is not regularly seen by a veterinarian, please contact your local clinic for vaccine recommendations. There is no cure for parvo, just supportive care and crossed-fingers. Prevention is crucial. Get your puppy vaccinated.

Here’s a link to Veterinary Partner’s Parvovirus Information Centre, use the links in the “Related Atricles” box to learn more about parvovirus.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
Trenton, Ontario – September 2012