Recently there has been an outbreak of Canine Parvo Virus in the Northern Rivers. You may have read about this in the local newspapers or on the Interwebs, Faceplant and such. In reality, Parvo is seen constantly in the Northern Rivers (especially in spring-summer), while Feline Enteritis pops up sporadically with nasty epidemics.
Both these viral diseases are devastating in their effects on dogs and cats respectively. They are highly contagious and have a high mortality rate, even with very intensive treatment. Both these diseases are also included in the regular vaccines recommended by Vets for all domestic dogs and cats. While vaccines are never 100% effective due to all sorts of factors, nearly all of the cases reported are in unvaccinated animals, or animals that have not completed their vaccine course for one reason or another (e.g puppies and kittens, immune-compromised animals etc).
So what are these diseases? Well, both are caused by a family of viruses called Parvo Viruses. ‘Parvo’ means ‘small’. These viruses are common across various species and cause a multitude of diseases. Feline Enteritis is actually a parvo virus disease as well. It’s also known as Feline Parvo, or Feline Panleukopaenia. The ‘panleukopaenia’ refers to the destruction of the immune system’s white blood cells in the affected animals. This is also a feature of Canine Parvo infection.
A feature of Parvo Virus disease in both dogs and cats is a devastating gastro-enteritis with severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Dogs particularly develop a foul haemorraghic diarrohea in huge quantities. This is accompanied by severe depression, fever and abdominal pain in many cases. Not all animals develop diarrhoea, and kittens and pups sometimes just die suddenly after a brief period of depression and shock.
Because the virus in both species also wipes out the animals’ immune system, the treatment becomes even more complicated. Death can be from shock, dehydration and blood loss, as well as septicaemia from secondary bacteria, or all of the above. Animals need IV fluids, antibiotics, plasma, blood transfusions, hospital isolation and a raft of other interventions if they are to survive. In general, young animals less than 6 months of age are the most severely affected, although any age is at risk. Purebred dogs are more at risk than crosses.
The virus is very hardy as well. Canine Parvo can survive a year in the environment, and Feline Parvo for many years! So direct contact with infected animals is not necessary for infection.
Prevention is by routine vaccination, with attention to worming and general health also important. That’s it really. Contact your Vet and get the correct information, and if your pet is not up-to-date with vaccination, get it sorted ASAP. I remember working in England in the early 80s dealing with a raging Parvo epidemic before vaccinations were widely available. Believe me, you don’t want to see that sort of thing here.
I promise I’ll write about something more cheery next time!
Bye now, Evan Kosack (Lennox Head Vet Clinic )