VET’S DIARY: Vaccination amnesty as parvo virus rears its head

THERE is no doubting what has been the main story on the vetting front in the last week or so – parvo virus, writes Dominic Plumley.

There has been a nasty outbreak of the disease in the Ashington area which has caused a number of dogs to be very ill and, unfortunately, some deaths also.

The virus, which can be picked up from the environment, causes symptoms ranging from a mild tummy upset to severe vomiting and haemorrhagic diarrhoea, which if untreated will more often than not be fatal, especially in very young or old individuals.

The outbreak has received widespread coverage in the local press and has even made the television news which has certainly generated a lot of reaction in the dog owning population across the county.

Though it may well still be early days, it is worth pointing out that we have not seen any clinical cases in our surgeries, the reported cases being treated by other local veterinary surgeons.

The canine version of the virus is thought to have mutated from a similar virus that infects cats and first came to prevalence in the UK in the 1970s causing widespread problems.

A vaccine was manufactured and I can still remember, as a very young boy, clients queuing down the street outside my father’s practice to get their dogs protected.

Since those early days, parvo virus antigen has remained a core element of canine vaccination. Sometimes the success of a vaccination campaign can be its own worst enemy.

In many ways we are fortunate to have an effective vaccine that protects against parvo-virus and consequently the number of cases seen has fallen over the years. Of course, out of sight is often out of mind and with fewer reports of sick dogs the temptation is to think that the threat has gone and not to bother to vaccinate.

This leaves the canine population susceptible and when the virus does raise its head we see dramatic outbreaks like the current one in Ashington.

It is important to remember that the vaccine is very good and that as long as your dog is up to date with its yearly boosters it should be protected against the disease. That said, it is still good advice to avoid areas that are populated by lots of dogs, particularly those that you don’t know whether they are vaccinated or not.

In truth, whether in the teeth of a parvo outbreak or not, it is a good idea to avoid such areas as they tend to be havens for infectious diseases, though I appreciate this is often easier said than done.

If your dog has never been vaccinated, or it has not been vaccinated for more than a year or so, it is especially important to avoid places where they may come into contact with the virus.

Remember, infection does not have to involve direct dog-to-dog contact. The virus is shed in faeces and will, depending on weather conditions, remain active for days. Just because there isn’t any other dogs around there may well still be a risk.

To ensure protection against the disease, dogs should be vaccinated as soon as possible. Immunity is established within a week or so of injection, though a second jab is necessary to complete the course and ensure protection for the next twelve months.

In response to this disease outbreak and to encourage vaccination, we at Alnorthumbria Vets are supporting a vaccine amnesty, giving dog owners the opportunity to complete the start-up course for the cost of an annual booster.

Similarly we would urge all dog owners who are concerned about their pets to contact a vet sooner rather than later as early treatment can make a significant difference to the chances of survival and the consequences of long-term damage to the bowel.