Parvovirus reaches crisis levels in Cape

Parvovirus, a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease that affects dogs, is spreading like wildfire through the Cape. One hospital which usually treats around 14 parvo cases a month, has already seen 45 patients this month.

The disease is prevented by vaccination.

Puppies are particularly vulnerable to the virus and it’s chances of surviving parvo are 50/50, if he or she gets premium and urgent veterinary care immediately after diagnosis. The pup will need intensive care, total isolation and expensive medication. Even then the outcome is not guaranteed.

What is parvovirus?

A viral disease of dogs causing two different sets of clinical problems:   ‘intestinal’  which is manifested by diarrhoea, often bloody vomiting, loss of appetite, depression, fever, and sometimes death; and ‘cardiac’ which occurs in very young pups and is manifested by an acute inflammation of the heart muscle.

Parvo is resistant to extremes of temperature (it survives freezing and extreme heat) and is unharmed by detergents, alcohols and common disinfectants.

Who gets parvo?

Any age, breed or sex of dog can be affected by parvo though infection does not automatically mean illness. Age, environment, stress, parasites and general health status of each infected dog could affect the severity of illness, which may range from very mild to unapparent to very severe, often resulting in death.The disease is usually more severe in young dogs (less than 6 months of age) or old dogs. Humans can’t get it.

How will I know if my dog has it?

Direct transmission occurs when an infected dog comes in contact with a healthy dog. The virus is found in heavy concentration in the infected dog’s faeces. The virus particles can be easily spread on shoes, clothing and other inanimate objects. Fleas, as well as people, can therefore act as indirect sources of infection.  Once it gets a foothold in a kennel, it is difficult to eliminate.

Symptoms include:

  • Bloody diarrhoea (often severe)
  • Fever.
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Malaise (discomfort associated with illness)
  • Rapid weight loss.
  • Vomiting.

What should I do to protect my dog?

Vaccinate! Vaccines are most effective in a healthy animal so before your pet is vaccinated, your vet will give him or her a thorough examination, checking temperature , listening to their chest and palpating their abdomen and make sure that he or she is free of parasites like ticks and fleas and worms.

Most vets recommend starting puppy vaccinations at six to eight weeks (depending on the mother’s vaccination status) but chat with your vet first. The first vaccination usually involves what is called a 5-in-1, a vaccination that covers five core diseases, including parvo.  A second round of vaccinations is required at 10-12 weeks, a third at 12-16 weeks and then once a year thereafter.

In cases of a mass infestation such as the one currently sweeping the Cape, veterinarians may recommend a fourth parvo vaccination for puppies. Ask your vet for advice.

If you’re planning on checking your dog into a boarding kennel during the holidays, ensure that it is a reputable establishment that demands vaccination certificates from all boarders.

If you regularly walk your dog in parks, or take him to puppy training or socialisation classes, please make absolutely sure his parvo vaccination is up-to-date. Parvovirus is highly contagious and spreads very quickly where large numbers of dogs are present.