It’s been all over social media in North Leeds this week, and it seems genuinely official now, there have been some parvo outbreaks in the area.
Meanwood Park, Becketts Park (West Park/Headingly/Kirkstall areas) and Crossgates have been identified so far as having cases confirmed, and parvo alerts have occurred in LS15 and LS17 according the Parvo Alert service provided by Ceva Animal Health.
So, where do we go from here? Well we need to give you some practical advice on how to minimise the risks and help you identify if your pet is high or low risk. It’s all too easy to shout about getting your treasured canine companion vaccinated RIGHT NOW, but what if you want to minimise vaccines in your pet? And many of the affected pets were vaccinated anyway, so how is a parvo shot going to help right now? And of course, whilst you can go and get your dog a parvo vaccination or booster, it’s likely that they won’t be covered for a small period of time anyway.
So here’s our practical advice on what parvovirus is, how to tell if your dog is at risk, and how to minimise the risks to your dog right now… this weekend… giving you peace of mind to continue enjoying your Sunday afternoon walk in the park. We need to cover the basics first, so grab a cuppa and get comfy as there’s a lot of information to take in.
Here’s the parvo lowdown.
What is parvovirus?
Parvovirus can in fact affect both dogs and cats, but the risks recently are more associated with dogs, so we will concentrate on dogs in this post. There are many strains of parvovirus and most strains produce the classic vomiting and diarrhoea, with blood present. Extreme dehydration can occur as a result, which can affect many of the organs vital to your pet’s wellbeing, and this is often the reason behind the debilitating, and sometimes fatal, reputation Parvovirus has. Many cases respond well to intensive intravenous fluid therapy, supportive medication and appropriate diets on recovery. Older dogs with strong immune systems will cope much better with the symptoms of parvovirus than younger puppies who are still developing their immune barriers, or dogs whose immune system is already compromised by a disease within the body. It’s not unusual for older dogs to simply pick up the virus, process it and shed it in their faeces with no real adverse effects, or not that you would notice anyway. This further increases the risk factors within the environment for more vulnerable individuals.
It is rare that we see parvovirus in our practice fortunately, and this is the first outbreak we’ve known for quite some time now. It’s far more common in urban environments with smaller amounts green spaces to walk dogs that it becomes more of a problem and especially where there is a high population of unvaccinated, or poorly bred or cared for, pets.
How does it pass from dog to dog?
Dog’s love to eat horrible things! We all know a dog who loves to eat dog faeces right? Yuk! It might even be your dog? Whilst this can increase the risk of catching the disease, that’s not necessarily the most common way for the virus to be passed between dogs. The virus can remain on the ground long after infected faeces are washed away, so it’s far more likely that your dog will pick up the virus on their paws, or even you yourself can pick it up on your shoes. They can then become infected by licking their paws, or chewing your shoes. It’s not an air born virus, your pet must physically ingest the virus.
So why have some vaccinated pets become infected?
It’s important to remember that vaccinations are not always 100% effective 100% of the time. No vaccine routine is infallible, but there are ways to narrow that margin of error depending on how that vaccine course is chosen to be administered. At our practice we take the time to understand and research immunology, and not go blindly by the manufacturers recommendations without first understanding how our pet’s immune system works. It’s been very popular over the last few years to try and get puppies out there as soon as possible to socialise, mix with other dogs and go for that nice long walk in the park. As a result, vaccine manufacturers have pushed the limits to develop vaccines that can be given from when your pet is as young as 6 weeks old and completing the course by 8-10 weeks old. But is this good for them though? Is their young immune system capable of responding appropriately, and effectively, to that vaccination? Your puppy’s immune system has a point of maturity, a point at which it copes much better with a large vaccine load.
Young puppies are vaccinated routinely against 5 diseases; parvovirus, leptospirosis, hepatitis, distemper and parainfluenza. We’ve chosen to ensure our vaccination course ends when your puppies immune system is able to cope with it. All puppies have an initial course of two vaccines, but it’s only the leptospirosis part that needs two parts. So we’ve chosen to give just the leptospirosis part first, when they are younger and less able to take that big vaccine whack (and parvovirus only in high risk cases on a case by case basis). We then give the full vaccine load when that puppy is 12 weeks old, and has an immune system mature enough to cope with it, this part usually includes the parvovirus vaccination.
Our head vet Brendan has seen a vaccine card of one of the dogs affected who very sadly died, and this dog had an early finish vaccine course at 10 weeks and was 9 months old. We don’t know for sure about some of the other cases, but on balance it seems probable that some of the others may well have had early finish courses done too considering their popularity. There is some evidence out there to show that early finish vaccine courses can reduce the efficacy of your pet’s vaccines, which is why we’ve chosen to take the stand we have on early finish vaccine courses and defend this decision with pride that we are doing the best by our pet owners who rely on us knowing our stuff. In fact, where a vaccine manufacturer boasts an early finish to their vaccine course on their data sheets, it does in fact also state that in high risk cases a third vaccine should be given at 16 weeks of age. This further supports our convictions and confidence in our choice to not adopt an early finish to our puppy vaccine courses, but simply ensure that the course ends when the puppy’s immune system is mature enough to cope with it rather than giving yet another vaccine at 16 weeks of age.
With this in mind, we would like all our clients who have had their pets vaccinated with us as puppies to be assured that we have chosen very carefully how we gave your puppy their vaccines.
Is an annual booster necessary?
Your dog should have at least one annual booster when they reach a year old to obtain good immunity against parvovirus. If your dog has had their first annual booster, the data evidence for immunity on a longer term basis for parvovirus is quite clear. As a practice we advocate the implementation of titre testing. As a holistic practice we have many pet owners who we wish to minimise the vaccines given to their pet, and we have a raft of clinical data within our practice having offered titre testing routinely to dog owners for over twenty years now. These clearly show the continuing level of immunity for parvovirus.
So, basically as long as your pet has had their first booster vaccination at a year of age, and your pet had a later finish for their vaccination course, your dog is at a lesser risk of catching the disease and being unable to cope with it.
Remember, it’s usually those dogs who have vulnerable immune systems who are most at risk, or those younger puppies whose immune systems have not yet developed, matured and taken on the full vaccine course.
If you would like us to check your vaccine card and carry out a risk assessment for your pet in light of the current outbreak, please get in touch and we will be happy to help. To make it easier for us to assess, take a photo on your phone of your vaccine card and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t promise to reply straight away and especially on weekends, but we will do our best to look at it and give you any advice we feel you might need in the best interests of your pet at this time.
What factors put your pet higher at risk?
Young puppies are obviously at risk, especially if they are unvaccinated, or have only had partial vaccination so far. Please keep them off the ground in the areas recognised, if they are young carry them in your arms. Let them run around in your back garden freely and there is no reason why you can’t take your puppy out in the car and take them to a lower risk area to have a good run around, and even that longer walk! Choose areas of wide open green space, not near rivers or canals, and you’ll find plenty of this in areas in the Yorkshire Dales so get out and about for the weekend. Make sure you keep your own shoes out of reach of your puppies, as you can bring virus’ in on your own shoes too, and puppies love shoes! It’s worth rinsing your own shoes with an anti-bacterial, anti-viral floor or surface cleanser. We can give an earlier parvo vaccine for your puppy by including it in their first injection, or giving them an extra booster, but only where we consider your puppy to live in a high risk area.
Young dogs under 1 year old who haven’t yet had their first booster vaccination, and who have had an early finish vaccine course. This group is also considered a higher risk category, but not as high risk as young puppies. Take care to avoid parks in the areas listed above and take them for longer walks in those more spacious green areas. Again, keep your own shoes out of reach and clean.
Dogs on steroids or immune-suppressive medication. If your dog is suffering from an illness or disease that affects their immune system, and inparticular if they are on steroid medication or mediation that suppresses their immune reactions, it’s vital you take more care with your pet. Their immune system is not strong, and if they caught parvo-virus they may be at risk of being unable to cope with the effects this virus may have on their already compromised health. Keep them exercised in low risk areas, or in the garden.
What else can you do? Even if your pet isn’t a high risk case?
The most obvious one is to wash their paws after long walks, or if you are worried you’ve been in a high risk area. Use warm water and rinse them really well, you can also use a mild anti-bacterial anti-viral wash for sensitive skin. You can also use anti-bacterial hand gels in high risk pets, or if you are particularly concerned. Limit the use of them to their pads only, and please don’t use them with dogs who have sore or cracked pads, as they are generally alcohol based and may sting.
Keep your shoes out of reach. Dog’s love to find those shoes, even if it’s just to carry them around! You can rinse your own shoes with an anti-bacterial, anti-viral floor or surface cleaner, then put them in a cupboard out of the way of cheeky dogs.
Do we really need an excuse to take our pets in to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales or the picture perfect Peak District? Well this is as good as any. Find those nice long walks in wide open green spaces, in places where there isn’t a heavy dog population.
Have safe and happy walks this weekend everyone!!