The virus attacks the lining of the intestines causing severe vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, dehydration and lethargy in dogs, and can be fatal if left untreated in 90% cases.
The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) veterinary charity says the virus is still common in the UK and is spread in poo particles.
Unvaccinated puppies less than six months old are particularly prone to parvovirus infections and often get the most severe signs, but dogs can be protected by getting regular vaccinations throughout their lives.
One lucky survivor of the virus is a three-year-old Labrador Spaniel Cross called Freddie who fell ill over Christmas after walking on Tunstall Hills in Sunderland.
Freddie’s owner Graeme Clark, 47, a financial consultant from Ashbrooke, said his dog was about an hour away from death, and would not have survived without treatment.
He told the Sunderland Echo: “On Christmas Eve we noticed some sick in the garden and on Christmas Day Freddie didn’t eat his dinner or play with his toys. On Boxing Day he started to get saliva coming from his mouth and was shaking and so we took him to the emergency vets in Gateshead.
“He was given an anti-sickness injection and re-hydrated but after getting home he continued to be sick and his saliva looked like it contained blood and so he was then taken to the animal hospital in Boldon where he tested positive for parvovirus. The vet said he didn’t think he would make it.”
After being given intravenous fluids and antibiotics to stave off additional infection, Freddie was moved to an isolation room, leaving Graeme, wife Alison and 13-year-old-daughter Amber to “wait and see if he would pull through”.
Graeme added: “As we left the hospital, Freddie looked up, which I thought was a good sign. The vet called at 10am the next morning to say Freddie was responding well and by New Year’s Eve we were able to bring him home. It was a close call as the vet said without treatment, Freddie was an hour from death.”
A friend of the family also revealed their dog contracted the virus over the Christmas period, while Roker Park Veterinary Centre issued a warning on Facebook about a worrying rise in cases and called for people to ensure their dogs are vaccinated.
Practice owner Rory Thompson said: “I’ve been working in small animal veterinary practices as a surgeon for 12-and-a-half years and not seen a single case of parvovirus until two months ago. Since then I’ve seen five cases in the Sunderland area and I’m aware other practices are also seeing large numbers at present.
“The cases start with vomiting, some of which are unresponsive to anti-sickness medication, with diarrhoea a couple of days later. This is making it very difficult to differentiate the seasonal canine illnesses we typically see at this time of year.
“Due to difficulties associated with getting routine booster vaccinations during Covid, there’s a higher than usual number of dogs whose booster vaccinations have lapsed and are no longer fully protected.
“I strongly advise anyone who has a dog that’s not up to date with annual vaccinations to contact their veterinary practice.”
Advice for dog owners
The PDSA says unvaccinated dogs can catch parvovirus from an infected dog, an infected dog poo or anything an infected dog has touched. This may include a dog lead, food bowl, bedding, human hands and clothes.
Common symptoms of the virus to look out for include:
- Diarrhoea (foul smelling, watery and bloody)
- Reduced appetite
- Extreme low energy (lethargy)
- A fever (your dog may feel hot or cold to touch)
Dogs that survive the infection often remain infectious for several weeks after they recover, and the virus can live in the environment for up to a year.
Veterinary nurse Rachel Gallagher said: “The rise in cases is extremely worrying. It’s spread through faeces and so it’s really important owners clean-up their pet’s poo, although there’s still a risk from a dog sniffing a contaminated area.”
Veterinary nurse, Rachel Gallagher, added: “The rise in cases is extremely worrying. It’s spread through faeces and so it’s really important owners clean-up their pet’s poo, although there’s still a risk from a dog sniffing a contaminated area.”