Parvovirus outbreak sparks call to vaccinate dogs

A puppy with parvovirus.

A parvovirus outbreak at The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) in Sunnydale has highlighted the need for dogs to be vaccinated against the disease.

Tears operations manager Mandy Store says the outbreak hit its peak during January and February, and the shelter treated more than 50 puppies. While no puppies are currently being treated for the virus, there are still active cases in the communities Tears works in.

Head veterinarian at Tears, Dr Tania Heuer, said the public needed to be educated about vaccinating their pets. She said 50% more cases were recorded this year compared to last.

“Currently the infections seemed to have plateaued out, but this is overlapping with other diseases like distemper,” she said.

Tears director Marilyn Hoole said because the virus was highly contagious it spread rapidly and treatment was expensive, as specialised drugs were needed and infected dogs had to be quarantined.

Covid-19 restrictions, she said, had played a large part in preventing Tears from reaching the communities it usually supported for vaccinations and sterilisations.

Pet owners, she said, were financially constrained and could not afford to have their pets vaccinated, and vaccinations are the only way to curb the spread of the disease.

“In some cases, puppies receive one or two vaccinations and then miss the following one. Communities should be educated about the importance of vaccinations,” she said.

Cape of Good Hope SPCA spokeswoman Belinda Abraham said the highly contagious parvovirus affected dogs. It spread through the faeces of infected dogs and was often fatal. The virus, she said, was extremely resilient and could live on faecal or other organic matter for up to a year and could be present anywhere, such as parks, beaches, streets and even on the soles of your shoes.

The virus incubated for around 10 days and an infected dog would not display any symptoms before then. Puppies, she said, should be vaccinated at 6, 9, 12 and 16 weeks and adult dogs should be given a booster shot every one to three years to ensure the best immunity possible.The vaccination takes 10 to 14 days to build immunity and public areas should be avoided until 14 days after the last vaccination has been administered.

Dr Heuer said the parvovirus, commonly known as cat flu, killed about 95% of unvaccinated dogs and puppies. A vaccinated dog, she said, had a good chance of survival unless it had a comorbidity. She said communities had to be educated about the virus as people tended to think it was spread by cats, which was why Tears only referred to it as the parvovirus.

Vaccination was vital to not only prevent parvovirus but also eliminate it, she said.

The parvovirus attacks the immune system and common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, lethargy, no appetite or weight loss, fever, weakness, depression and dehydration.

Puppies that survived parvovirus, she said, could continue to shed the virus for approximately a month afterwards.

For more information about the parvovirus or support Tears, call 021 785 4482

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