This week I saw a very young puppy, Bobby, die in the most unpleasant way after succumbing to suspected parvovirus infection. It was a reminder, if one was needed, of the importance of vaccinating dogs.
Parvovirus is just one of the illnesses which can be prevented almost completely by giving a course of vaccinations to all puppies at the right age, followed by an annual booster vaccination.
When this illness first occurred in dogs in the UK in the 1970s, I was a veterinary student spending my holidays in veterinary practices. There was an epidemic of parvovirus and many dogs died, especially puppies. As it was a genuinely new disease, probably a mutation of an existing virus, dogs had no immunity to it until a vaccine was developed. The main symptoms are severe diarrhoea with blood and vomiting, leading quickly to lethargy, dehydration and death. In young pups the virus can also affect the heart muscle, and this is another reason for the high death rate. There is no specific treatment for the virus itself so supportive measures like intravenous fluids, pain relief and intensive nursing are given, along with other drugs like antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection. No-one involved in trying to treat these cases will forget the suffering or the awful and characteristic smell ………..