Deadly dog virus outbreak a reminder we should all get our pups vaccinated

Richard Watts - Times Colonist

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Parvovirus, a viral disease that can be deadly for dogs, especially puppies, is making an appearance in Sooke and other parts of southern Vancouver Island.

“The disease is severe,” said Dr. Clare Tompkins, a 24-year veterinarian now working as a locum in various Island clinics, most recently at Otter Point Veterinary Hospital in Sooke.

“Adult dogs that get it and are treated don’t necessarily die,” said Tompkins. “Puppies very frequently die even with treatment.”

She said clinics in Sooke, Otter Point and the Sooke Veterinary Hospital have seen at least nine case in recent weeks. Tompkins has also heard of isolated cases in other parts of the south Island.

Parvovirus is spread through contact with an infected dog’s feces. Symptoms of the disease include lack of energy, vomiting and diarrhea. Dehydration is often the most severe and fatal symptom.

Treatment often consists of fluids delivered intravenously, sometimes for days, along with antibiotics and medication to keep vomiting under control.

Tompkins said the best chance of survival is prevention with a properly administered sequence of vaccines. Most of the periodic outbreaks of parvovirus are usually traced to an unvaccinated dog or group of dogs.

She said puppies require at least three vaccinations against parvovirus and recommends shots at eight, 12 and 16 weeks of age. In some cases and some breeds, a fourth shot at 20 weeks is recommended.

Tompkins also recommends a certain amount of caution with a puppy. Don’t introduce a pup to other dogs unless you know the owners and are assured the new dogs have been properly vaccinated.

Also, since parvovirus is spread in feces, it’s best to keep a young pup away from areas frequented by lots of other dogs, like popular walking trails or dog parks.

Tompkins also said keeping a young pup away from the local dog park should not mean the animal’s socialization process gets delayed or avoided. All dogs must learn early how to be “good canine citizens.”

“More dogs end up getting euthanized because of behavioral issues than disease,” said Tompkins.

Owners of new pups should take their pets for walks on a leash down streets while avoiding the dog park where parvovirus-laden feces may lay or have lain.

Meanwhile, play dates with friends who have healthy, vaccinated dogs should be arranged for socialization to occur.

“Puppies need to get out and into their environments to become acquainted with all the things they will meet in life: children, cats, other dogs,” said Tompkins. “But just avoid the dog park until the dog is older.”

Tompkins also strongly recommended all puppies, dogs and dog owners develop a relationship early on with a veterinarian. Ask about an effective regime of vaccines and other health considerations.

“If you have any questions, consult with your veterinarian,” she said.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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