The most deadly disease for man's best friend is a virus which is ironical; in talks with Dr Thinlay Bhutia

The most deadly disease for man's best friend  is a virus which is ironical; in talks with Dr Thinlay Bhutia
Picture Courtesy: DogRescueCarcassone

Gangtok, March 16:

It has come to light that several dogs in Sikkim have succumbed to Canine parvovirus (also referred to as CPV, CPV2, or parvo) which is a contagious virus mainly affecting dogs. CPV is highly contagious and is spread from dog to dog by direct or indirect contact with their faeces. Vaccines can prevent this infection, but mortality can reach 91% in untreated cases. Treatment often involves veterinary hospitalization. Canine parvovirus may infect other mammals including foxes, wolves, cats, and skunks. Whereas cats are susceptible to panleukopenia, a different strain of parvovirus.

It is the stuff of nightmares for every pet owner though there is not much awareness among people about its existence because a healthy puppy that is healthy, happy, active and energetic can become fatally ill and lifeless within a matter of days. Even though it is a very preventable disease, due to owners and breeders not being aware of such a disease and how one can prevent it, it can be rampant. 

Sikkim Chronicle spoke to Dr Thinlay Bhutia, Joint Director, Sikkim Anti-Rabies & Animal Health (SARAH) and who is also part of the initiative ‘Vet Beyond Borders’- of the VetTrain Program in collaboration with the Animal Welfare Board of India and the Ministry of Environment & Forests (Government of India), to provide clinical training to veterinary personnel working with animal birth control and anti-rabies (ABC-AR) projects in India, to know better about this virus which is the cause of deaths among many dogs. 

What is the Parvo Virus?

Parvo is a highly contagious virus that causes an infectious gastrointestinal (GI) illness in puppies and young dogs, and without treatment, it is potentially deadly. He adds that what makes the virus so dangerous is the ease with which it is spread through the canine population as the virus spreads either by direct contact with an infected dog, or through faeces, and an infected dog can begin shedding the virus four to five days after exposure — often before the dog starts exhibiting any clinical signs of infection. The dog will continue to shed the virus while he is sick and for up to 10 days after he has recovered. This means that accurate diagnosis and quarantine are essential for the health of your dog and of other dogs, as well.

What dogs are most at risk for this virus?

Young dogs between six weeks and six months old, unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated dogs are most at risk for contracting parvo. German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, English Springer Spaniels, and American Staffordshire Terriers also have a high risk of contracting the parvovirus, although scientists are not entirely sure why these dog breeds are at a higher risk than others. Puppies are born with antibodies from their mothers. As these antibodies fade, however, it is up to owners to make sure that the puppies receive a course of parvo vaccinations. The stress of weaning and a secondary parasite or infection, along with parvo, can lead to a more severe case of parvo, which is why it is very important to talk to your vet about the proper care for puppies and pregnant bitches.

What is the cause for Parvo in Dogs?

The canine parvovirus causes parvo in dogs, and it can be transmitted in two ways. The first is by direct contact through the nose and mouth with infected poop, which can happen when a dog sniffs or licks a surface or another dog that has been contaminated with faeces. Since puppies explore their world through smell and love to mouth things, it is easy to see how a curious puppy could contract the parvovirus sniffing. The second method of transmission is through indirect contact. The virus can survive on clothing, equipment, on human skin, and in the environment. Indirect transmission occurs when a puppy comes into contact with a contaminated person, object, or environment. The parvovirus is a particularly resilient virus. It can survive indoors at room temperature for at least two months and is resistant to many commonly used cleaners and disinfectants. Outdoors, the parvovirus can survive for months, and even years, if protected from direct sunlight. This is why hospital quarantine of the infected dog and proper cleanup of the environment is especially important. Shoes that have come into contact with infected faeces can also bring the virus into a dog’s environment, which is concerning since there is evidence that parvo can live in ground soil for up to one year. If you suspect that you have come into contact with faeces at all, you will need to wash the affected area with household bleach, one of the few disinfectants known to kill the virus. Once a dog has contracted parvo, the virus replicates. This replication takes place in the small intestines, lymphopoietic tissue (lymph nodes, thymus, etc.), and bone marrow. This leads to severe GI problems and in rare cases, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart).

What are the symptoms of Parvo in Dogs?

Every dog owner and breeder should know the symptoms of parvo in dogs. Any or all of these symptoms merit a call to your veterinarian. Even if parvo is not the cause, the symptoms could be the result of another illness that requires veterinary attention. The most common symptoms are:

  • Severe, bloody diarrhoea,
  • Lethargy,
  • Anorexia,
  • Fever,
  • Vomiting,
  • Weight loss,
  • Weakness,
  • Depression,
  • Dehydration.

What is the best treatment for parvo in dogs?

If you suspect that your dog has parvo, he needs immediate veterinary attention. Parvo is a potentially fatal virus that requires intensive care, and the sooner your canine is diagnosed the better. Your vet will most likely recommend a blood test and few other tests to confirm the disease and also would suggest a treatment regime to your dog and ask you to isolate the affected puppy, where he will offer supportive care and monitor your dog for secondary infections due to parvoviral infection in the puppy. Depending on the severity of the case, your vet may prescribe a series of medications, including antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections from entering your dog through the damaged walls of his intestines. To make matters worse, parvo also reduces your dog’s ability to fight infection by lowering his white blood cell count ( leukocytopenia ) Your vet will provide your dog with the supportive fluids, nutrition, and medications that will hopefully save his life, which is why taking your dog to the vet is the best thing you can do for him rather than calling for home visits.

Most puppies that survive the first 3-to-4 days will make a complete recovery, which usually takes around one week. Your vet will walk you through the recovery process and tailor a recovery plan best suited to your puppy’s needs.

What is the best prevention for Parvo?

Parvo is a preventable disease, but even vaccinated dogs are not 100% protected from the virus. Vaccines for the parvovirus are recommended for all puppies and are usually given in a series of three shots when the pup is between 6-to-8 weeks old, again at 10-to-12 weeks, and at 14-to-16 weeks. A booster shot is administered every year ( as in India we get a combo vaccination with other diseases for parvo). Unvaccinated puppies and incompletely vaccinated puppies (home visit vaccination puppies also included here ) should not be exposed to unvaccinated dogs or to environments where unvaccinated dogs could have introduced the parvovirus, like dog parks or boarding facilities. While it might be tempting to take your new puppy with you everywhere you go, her/his health depends on keeping her/ him safe until she/him is fully vaccinated against this life-threatening disease. Remember owning a dog and not vaccinating is like having a child and not vaccinating them against polio, measles, Hepatitis etc.

Unvaccinated puppies can be safely socialized with fully vaccinated adult dogs in safe environments like your home. Most puppy classes require proof of vaccination ( vaccination records signed by a vet and sealed ) before you can enrol your puppy. Vaccination reduces the risk of the spread of deadly diseases like parvo, so make sure that you do your research before enrolling your young puppy in a class. Socialization and training are very important for proper development, but it is up to you to make sure your puppy is socialized in a safe environment. A puppy should never be placed in situations such as daycare or training classes until they have completed their vaccines at 14-to-16 weeks of age.

However, it is imperative that prior to vaccination the dog is adequately dewormed and healthy. Vaccinating a dog with suppressed immunity or recent history of exposure could be contraindicated and is to be strictly avoided. Pet dogs should receive the vaccinations in a proper schedule (which would include -3 doses from 6 weeks up to 3 months( 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks) or ( 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks) depending on the vaccine/brand used). This should be followed by annual boosters. The vaccine is available in any Veterinary stores.

Bhutia adds, “Understanding parvo in dogs is the first step toward preventing the spread of this dangerous virus. Make sure your puppy gets vaccinated at the appropriate ages and protect your unvaccinated and partially vaccinated puppies by keeping them in a safe environment. If you suspect your puppy has parvo, contact the nearest vet centre. Parvovirus disease also has been in the state for a number of years. This disease shows acute vomiting and diarrhoea. The symptoms develop within one or two days and dogs are very sick, often dying within two to three days. Again younger puppies are more susceptible and more severely affected. Parvo infection is extremely contagious, spreading readily from dog to dog. It's caused by a virus, so treatment is difficult and often unsuccessful. Whereas unlike Rabies they are not spread to humans – only dogs are affected.”

Bhutia has suggested that if one is suspected that their pet might have contracted the virus then to immediately contact your local Veterinary establishment for advice for vaccination. They are very effective, while also remember also that periodic booster shots are needed to maintain immunity. He has listed a few points to remember during an outbreak which are:

1. Proper disposal of carcass either through deep burial or burning and never dump in the open field.

2. The beddings or clothes should be burnt immediately.

3. Movement of dogs from one place to another should be avoided.

4. Good nursing care is advisable for ailing dogs.

5. The owners whose dogs are infected with Parvo should maintain cleanliness and hygiene. They should be encouraged not to spread the infection to other healthy dogs.

6. Once the dog is dead, owners should make sure that the place should be thoroughly sanitized with a virucidal solution like bleaching and dispose of the carcass properly and no new dogs should be introduced for at least 3 months.

7. Always buy or bring well-vaccinated dogs especially from outside the state. Ask for vaccination details of the dog from the dog dealer where a registered Vet would issue such a certificate. The full protection of the vaccine against the disease will occur only after 14- 20 days post-vaccination.

We also spoke to two members of NGOs dedicated towards animals namely Anu Thami from People for Animals (PFA), Sikkim and Bharti Gurung from The Guardians, Sikkim who both voiced their request to the general public of Sikkim to look out for symptoms of the virus in our stray furry friends in our respective localities and if anybody does find a stray dog with such symptoms then to rush them to the nearest vet clinic. The symptoms to look out for among the ones listed above are-

  • Bloody stool
  • Drolling
  • Painful cries 

Both Gurung and Thami have said that while in the years before there would only be news that the parvovirus could likely enter Sikkim, but in the month of March there has been a widespread infection of such cases in the state with frequent requests and queries coming to them. While both NGOs try to help out as much as possible in regard to this, but with the NGOs being located in the capital- Gangtok, unfortunately, they cannot always provide assistance in far-flung places in other districts.

Bharti Gurung has also assured that anyone needing assistance or guidance in such cases can reach out to The Guardians, Sikkim through their social media handles and they will try to help out to the best of their abilities. 

During our talk with Dr Thinlay Bhutia, Bharti Gurung and Anu Thami, all three stressed time and again the importance of proper vaccination and reminded us to only buy or bring well-vaccinated dogs more importantly if it is from outside the state. Let us remember that our furry friends need a lot of love and care but aren’t they worth it since they are man’s best friend.