Parvo and puppies - please vaccinate!

Tonight, my sledding community is rocked with horrific news - two puppies, Stella and Opal, have passed away from parvovirus, leaving several families devastated. “Passed away” is a particularly deceiving phrase here, as the puppies suffered terribly. A third puppy, Porter, is believed to also be infected at this time. All three puppies had received their first vaccination before leaving teir breeder families, but their new home did not complete their puppy vaccination schedule. To make matters worse, their new home concealed both their anti vaccination beliefs and actions in refusing to complete the schedules, and the break out of parvo and treatment decisions made, from the breeders. The result has been the painful death, without euthanasia of two puppies, with a third highly likely to follow, and a huge breakdown of trust within our community.

I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to the people involved. I have not personally discussed the matter with them, and what I’ve stated above is based on a FB post from the breeders. 

I usually don’t comment on matters of human “politics” on this blog, but I am so horrified at the outcome of dangerous beliefs that people have held, that I wanted to write about this, to encourage anyone who is wavering about vaccination to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE vaccinate your puppies, your children and yourself. Please don’t take unnecessary risks with babies and puppies too young to be vaccinated.

 What is parvovirus? 

Parvovirus is a group of very small viruses that can infect a range of animals, including pigs, dogs and cats. Like all viruses, parvovirus is smaller than an animal cell. Once it has entered a cell, it uses the cell’s internal machinery to reproduce, filling the cell with viral particles until the cell ruptures and the viral particles leak out and spread throughout the animal’s system. This viral process causes the animal severe suffering and pain.

Parvovirus is very dangerous virus that often leads to a painful death. In dogs, it ravages the digestive system, leaving the dog with terrible haemorrhaging and diarrhoea. The bloody poo that is released from the body contains millions of viral particles that are capable of surviving despite heat, detergent or alcohol. Parvovirus can survive for up to a year in the environment. In dogs, it also affects the heart muscles.

 What are the treatment options? 

Being a virus, parvovirus has few effective treatments. Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not viruses. If the disease is diagnosed quickly enough, veterinary medicine may be able to treat some of the symptoms while the dog’s immune system works to remove the infected cells and viral particles. However, parvo is so damaging to a small puppy or young, already ill or elderly dog, that euthanasia is often the only option.

How can parvo be prevented? 

Parvovirus can be prevented via vaccination and by ensuring that dogs too young to be vaccinated (or other at risk animals) are quarantined. 

Vaccines involve injecting the animal (or human) with a small amount of fluid that contains particles that trigger the animal’s immune system to produce the antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) to recognise and fight off the virus before symptoms develop. The injection usually causes a small amount of discomfort, similar to a small bruise, but, if a sterile needle is used, is quite safe. Because a very young animal’s immune system is still developing, immunisation injections are usually ineffective before a particular age, and full immunity generally requires three injections, provided over the second to sixth month of life. There is currently some debate about the value of annual vaccinations in dogs, but regardless of the pros and cons of annual booster injections, the vast majority of the Australian animal owning community agree that puppy vaccines are life saving. 

Puppy vaccines cover a range of illnesses, of which parvo is only one.  Updates are constantly being developed to make vaccines safer and to broaden the range of illnesses covered.

Puppies that are too young to be vaccinated can be protected by quarantine procedures. Because parvovirus is spread through faecal particles and survives in the environment for up to a year, taking a puppy who has not yet finished its immunisation schedule to a park or high traffic footpath where Dog poo particles are present is very dangerous.  Some breeders will ask people to wear clean clothes or remove their shoes before entering a property with new puppies, to avoid bringing infection in.

Why wouldn’t you vaccinate? 

As serious illnesses such as polio, smallpox and measles in humans, and parvo in dogs, become less common in our community, our fear of them also lessens. In recent years, some Australians have questioned the need to vaccinate, leading to outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough with devastating results - painful, serious illness with lifelong consequences and death for babies and small children who are not old enough to make their own decisions about their treatment. We need to research the diseases that are preventable through vaccination, and understand how serious they are, how different influenza is from a cold, how measles has lifelong impacts that chicken pox doesn’t and how some, such as parvovirus, are deadly.

Some people fail to vaccinate themselves, their children or pets out of fear of needles or concern about the contents of the injection. In my work, I have seen annual vaccination clinics shrink, despite decades of people and animals enjoying the benefits. In recent years I’ve sat through the immunisation of my babies and pets, at vaccination clinics where each person is required to remain for 15 minutes in case the injection causes a reaction. 

In all of these clinics, many catering for over 300 people every day, I HAVE **NEVER** SEEN A PERSON OR ANIMAL SUFFER A SERIOUS REACTION TO THEIR INJECTION. Babies often don’t even cry, because the discomfort is so momentary. Children and adults may suffer anxiety and should discuss their concerns with the person providing the immunisation, especially if they have a history of fainting.

Concerns about the side effects of immunisation, about “chemicals” in the vaccines, about the potential impact on the brain or body, are groundless. Millions of people and animals are vaccinated every day around the world without ill effect. Sadly, many people and animals continue to die from preventable illnesses, because vaccines are not available in all parts of the world. This is tragic, but most especially tragic are the deaths where they are available and people have chosen to opt out of using them.