By Elizabeth J. Mann, DVM
As an emergency room veterinarian, I see many different situations, anything from a pet simply not acting like herself, to serious lacerations, to pets that have been hit by cars. Nothing affects me quite as much as seeing a pet whose condition could have been avoided by a common vaccination. Pets bring us so much joy and love us unconditionally; it is a shame to see one fall ill to a preventable disease.
Canine Parvo Virus (Parvoviral enteritis): This virus is highly contagious and often fatal. It is spread by eye, nose, or mouth contact with infected feces, which disseminate into microscopic particles either into the environment or on a dog’s coat. This means your dog can be infected just by sniffing around in the grass, or by sniffing other dogs. Parvo virus most often affects dogs under 6 months, and is more common in larger breed dogs. This doesn’t mean I haven’t treated many Chihuahuas for the disease. Once infected, the virus attacks rapidly multiplying cells, notably the cells of the intestinal tract. Here you see the classic “parvo” signs of severe bloody diarrhea, anorexia, and vomiting. The diarrhea can be so severe that death can be caused by dehydration alone. Pets are brought to the emergency room either because of the diarrhea and vomiting, or because of weakness and lethargy due to dehydration. Pets can also die from bacterial infection that spreads from the intestines into the blood stream as the intestinal cells die, causing sepsis. The virus also can affect the bone marrow, skin, and heart. We treat parvo virus with supportive care while the damaged tissues regenerate. The mainstay is rehydration and correction of electrolyte imbalance via fluid therapy, usually intravenous. Antibiotics are critical for trying to prevent sepsis. Anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications are also given. Most pets are hospitalized anywhere from 3 to 7 days depending on severity and response to treatment.
Another disease that is easily prevented by a vaccination is Canine Distemper Virus (CDV). CDV is spread mainly through infected respiratory liquids (sneeze, runny nose, nose-to-nose, cough), but is also spreads in urine and from mother to fetus (transplacentally.) Once infected the virus invades the respiratory system, GI tract, skin, and central nervous system. Infected dogs may be brought to their general practitioner for simply being listless, feverish, and having eye and nose discharge and a cough. A pet coming to the emergency room usually has additional symptoms such as diarrhea, weakness, stumbling, twitching, and even seizures. Sadly, treatment is often futile, and pets showing any central nervous system signs, such as seizures, may never recover. Pets with respiratory affects need to be kept in isolation and receive antibiotics and pneumonia related treatments. Intravenous fluids are usually warranted, and other therapies are added based on clinical signs.
Finally, just as in human health, prevention is key: Canine Parvo Virus and Canine Distemper Virus are both prevented by a common combination vaccine. It is often referred to as DA2PP. This vaccine should be given to puppies every 3 to 4 weeks for a total of 3 to 4 vaccinations, i.e. at 8, 12, and 16 weeks). Dogs then receive a booster shot at 1 year, and then are usually vaccinated every 1 to 3 years thereafter. For our feline friends, the deadly Feline Leukemia Virus is preventable by vaccinating your kitten twice, at 12 weeks, and 16 weeks. A booster shot is then given at 1 year, followed by annual vaccination if your cat is considered at risk for exposure.
Check with your veterinarian about your pets’ vaccinations, keep a record of them, and make sure your pet is up-to-date. You might just save your pet from becoming sick and save yourself a trip to the emergency veterinarian.
Dr. Mann is with Critical Care and Veterinary Specialists of Sarasota.