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Dog owners warned over fast moving and highly contagious disease

A vet this week sounded a warning over a “massive” number of dogs left unvaccinated against common illnesses because their owners “do not believe in it, or do not have the money”.

Andrew Madeiros of Ettrick Animal Hospital spoke after an apparent viral outbreak of a fast moving and “highly contagious” disease fatal to dogs was flagged up by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

He said the illness was in many cases hitting pitbulls and younger dogs.

Two new cases arrived at Ettrick yesterday.

Canine parvovirus, a gastrointestinal virus that can be fatal within a few days, has been spotted by three veterinarian practices with cases that did not appear related.

The virus is easily left behind on surfaces and spread to other animals.

Dr Madeiros told The Royal Gazette a broader conversation “needs to be had” about illegal breeding and disease.

“People are breeding these dogs either on purpose or accidentally and they are going to people who in some cases do not worm them or vaccinate them.”

He added that pitbulls were highly popular but bred from a small local population, leaving some of the animals prone to genetic problems.

“A lot of the dogs are closely related,” he said. “No pitbulls have been imported for 20 years.”

A spokeswoman for the department said the diagnoses of parvovirus came from “clinical signs and laboratory test results”.

She said: “Canine parvovirus will usually be seen sporadically, but the department is aware of at least three clusters, affecting 15 puppies and dogs, which has caused concern.”

Vets highlighted a potential outbreak among “young unvaccinated dogs”.

Canine parvovirus causes loss of appetite, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and listlessness.

“The disease can progress quickly and be fatal,” the spokeswoman said. “Aggressive treatment of these very sick animals is needed.”

Dr Madeiros the island was “not headed in a good direction” with a rising population of pitbulls in particular that were unlicensed and unvaccinated.

“Parvo is not something we have seen often,” he said. “It’s been rare until recently.”

But Ettrick has treated five cases in the last month.

Dr Madeiros added: “The bigger picture of the problem is the number of illegally bred dogs has increased significantly over the last couple of years. We are seeing more and more unvaccinated dogs coming from unknown breeders.

“Often people don’t have the money or feel it’s necessary, so now we have a large population of unvaccinated dogs out there.

“That’s just what any virus loves.”

Dr Madeiros said owners of unlicensed dogs should not fear getting them vaccinated.

“Vets have nothing to do with licensing. Our job is medical care. We don’t report people.

“We encourage people that get dogs, particularly puppies, to get them basic care.”

He said an examination and a first shot against the disease coast around $110.

But the hospital treatment for severely ill dogs could run up hundreds more, with bills as high as $1,400.

Dr Madeiros warned that the virus could linger in the environment for “years”.

“This is not something that disappears quickly.”

Tonya Marshall, the owner of Bermuda Veterinary Services, said the island had not seen an outbreak of the virus in many years.

“What’s happening now is definitely an outbreak,” she said. “To date, we have seen five or six cases.”

Ms Marshall added: “The worry for Bermuda is that the parvovirus is now in the environment.

“It starts with puppies. It can spread if the puppy has not manifested symptoms or it’s not severe enough. It survives outside the body and is able to be transmitted to other pets. We can potentially see older dogs pick it up if they are walked by their owners in popular places like public parks, the Botanical Gardens, the Railway Trail.”

Infected dogs contaminate their surroundings, including bedding and the hands and clothes of people looking after them, through virus-laden faeces and vomit.

Surfaces should be kept clean with bleach or disinfectants specific to parvovirus.

The Government advised dog handlers to use coveralls and disposable gloves to help avert infection.

The spokeswoman said home remedies alone would not work – but if the cost of hospital treatment was too high, vets could find options for outpatient treatment.

Sick animals have so far generally been “young puppies to adolescent dogs under one year of age, either unvaccinated or with an unclear vaccination history”.

Included are puppies too young for vaccination and born to unvaccinated dogs.

Also included among vulnerable animals are puppies too young for vaccinations themselves, having been born to unvaccinated mothers.

The department said parvovirus was preventable and advised owners to have their puppies and dogs vaccinated with the vet of their choice.

Young puppies which have not completed their puppy vaccinations should not be taken to public areas frequented by other dogs.

Breeders were told to ensure good health and appropriate vaccination of dogs, and new owners of puppies were advised to ask about the vaccination history of the mother and of their puppy, as well as the wellbeing of the litter.

Owners were advised to get veterinary attention for any dog that falls ill.

Humans are not susceptible to the virus, which is generally specific to dogs, but poor hygiene will lead to spreading the virus and exposing additional dogs.

Cats, though seldom affected, usually show only mild signs of disease.

But cats are susceptible to their own version, known as feline parvovirus or feline panleukopenia.

The department warned that breeders should provide a dog buyer with a licence and registered microchip, adding: “You should be cautious about accepting a dog that does not come with these items, as the legality of the animal becomes questionable.”

Animal Control can be reached at 239-2327 or animals@gov.bm.

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Published July 20, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated July 20, 2021 at 8:01 am)

Dog owners warned over fast moving and highly contagious disease

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