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Desperate dogs dying slowly in agony, vomiting and passing bloody diarrhoea. Unable to eat or drink you can see the sadness in their faces, the desperation in their eyes, as they sit in puddles of bloody diarrhoea while their life fades away.

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious and worldwide cause of serious and often fatal disease of dogs, especially puppies. Yet prevention is readily available in the form of highly effective and low-cost vaccines, which will protect dogs against parvovirus.

What really puts the tragedy of parvovirus in perspective, is that cost of a health check and vaccination is cheaper than the cost of euthanasia and cremation of a dog dying of parvovirus.

Parvovirus is spread through dog faeces, either through direct contact with faeces or via faeces tracked in by other dogs or people’s shoes and clothes.  The virus is very tough and can survive for sometime in the environment especially when the weather conditions are mild, such as those in Whyalla at the moment.

The virus attacks the dog’s intestines of an infected dog. The dog becomes quiet, stops eating and drinking, vomits continuously and passes bloody diarrhoea with a very strong distinctive metallic odour. Death from dehydration and secondary infection happen soon after. If you suspect your dog has parvo, it should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

Treatment for parvovirus infection involves aggressive early treatment with fluids, antibiotics and anti-vomiting medication. Most dogs treated early will survive however the treatment is expensive and never guaranteed.

Prevention involves vaccination and keeping your dog safe until the vaccine provides immunity and this is especially important when there is a parvovirus outbreak, like the one we are seeing in Whyalla at the moment.  Unvaccinated dogs should be kept separate from other dogs and never taken onto the streets, dog park, beach etc. Change your shoes when you have been out and about. Change your clothes if you have come into contact with other dogs. If dogs around you have come down with parvovirus, don’t bring your dog into the area.

Vaccination is the gold standard for preventing parvovirus infection and this involves vaccinating puppies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. A recent study at the University of Sydney has shown that of the initial three vaccinations, the 16-week vaccination is the most important and effective. Adults dogs over 1 year of age should receive a yearly vaccination.

The good news is that all dogs that have been seen with a parvovirus infection and been intensively treated at the Whyalla Veterinary Clinic, have survived. The bad news is that the latest outbreak is estimated to have claimed the lives of over 100 dogs in Whyalla and they were all unvaccinated. To date, there are no reports of fully vaccinated dogs coming down with parvovirus in Whyalla.

The face of parvo. One of the many puppies that were euthanized in Whyalla during the recent parvovirus outbreak.  Photo courtesy of the Whyalla Veterinary Clinic