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Parvovirus in dogs: should you have your dogs vaccinated?

Vet Tony Buckwell says yes and explains why to a reader who has written in

cocker spaniel puppy

Q: I was told that parvovirus in dogs is not seen very often these days and was wondering if, in the current economic climate, the annual booster vaccination is still necessary? What would be your advice? (Read more on dog vaccination schedules.)

A: Parvovirus in dogs is a potentially fatal disease caused by a virus that attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune system in dogs, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients. While formerly well controlled, when a significant proportion of the canine population was regularly vaccinated, that situation has changed somewhat and vets are now warning owners that cases of parvovirus in dogs are much more common — almost doubling in the early part of last year.

The massive increase is due primarily to the lockdown puppy boom and the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which adversely influenced preventive health care. Lockdown saw a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking canine companionship and adopting or purchasing dogs.

Unfortunately, the morally inept seized the opportunity to profit. Unlawful imports and irresponsible dog breeding saw an increase in puppies raised in poor conditions rife with disease, accompanied by a lax approach to vaccination. Although effective vaccines to the virus exist, supplies became limited following the pandemic and almost half of dogs (45%) fell behind on their jabs due to lockdown delays, according to research.

I would strongly advise all owners to book their dog in for vaccination and ensure they receive regular boosters. Annual boosters need not entail the cost of full vaccination as vets now adopt a more strategic approach. Parvovirus vaccines, for instance, are now normally given only every three years, but protection against other diseases, such as leptospirosis, are typically needed more frequently. I would advise gundog owners to talk to their vet about their dog’s lifestyle and together discuss which vaccines might be necessary and when they might most effectively be given.