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Parvo is still deadly to dogs…

August 28, 2013

Modern vaccination programs in dogs and cats are highly effective at disease prevention  and have high levels of uptake in most communities. This results in the apparent disappearance of the disease and it then becomes easy to become complacent. Parvovirus was first diagnosed in dogs in NZ in 1980 and in the following years was to cut a deadly swathe across NZ and the world. The dog population was totally naïve to this virus and infection was very often fatal. Today because of the widespread use of vaccines and exposure to the virus itself, levels of population immunity are higher and disease less common and severe.

These factors combine to make it easy to forget that the virus is still around in the environment. Research has shown parvovirus to be present in groups of dogs but without the presence of disease due to an active immune response. If the immune response should wane however the disease reappears. We recently encountered exactly this situation with a sad and unfortunate outcome. This serves as a very timely reminder just how lethal parvovirus can be.

A litter of four puppies was not accepted by their mother at birth and was fostered on to another bitch who was weaning six week old pups. The foster bitch looked after the pups really well until suddenly at around 8 weeks old they all became ill and developed vomiting and  diarrhea. They were treated and recovered but two days later one puppy suddenly collapsed with severe respiratory distress.  The puppy had an extremely high heart rate and developed acute heart failure and despite our very best efforts he succumbed to his disease. An autopsy revealed an acute inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis. This is a characteristic form of parvovirus infection which was once relatively common but today is very rare

As the puppy had been reared on a foster mum it had not received any significant immunity from its mother’s colostrum. When it later came in contact with the virus, this unique situation predisposed it not only to infection but also this rare complication.

We have also recently had two cases of gastro-intestinal parvo in unrelated dogs which is an unusual wintertime occurrence. These diseases do not go away. They are just suppressed by high levels of herd immunity and should they get the opportunity they have a habit of making an unfortunate return.