Vets fear being overwhelmed by parvovirus cases
The island’s vets are scrambling to coordinate an emergency vaccination drive for dogs as an outbreak of a fast-spreading virus takes an increasing toll.
The Bermuda Veterinary Association held a discussion on Thursday night with all the island’s clinics to push for a low-cost immunisation campaign to arrest the spread of canine parvovirus, which has taken a heavy toll on pitbulls in particular.
This virus, seldom found in Bermuda, broke out last month.
Jennifer Fullerton, owner of Endsmeet Animal Hospital in Devonshire, likened the vaccination push to efforts to stop the coronavirus in humans.
“It’s very similar to Covid,” she said. “Vaccination is very effective, but we need to have everybody vaccinated.”
Dr Fullerton said she had counted close to 20 cases at Endsmeet since the alarm was raised three weeks ago.
All were in dogs that had not been given shots against the virus, and some had died or had to be put down.
Symptoms begin with lethargy, followed by loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea. The virus is often fatal if untreated.
Canine parvovirus was unknown before the late 1970s, when it appeared and quickly spread worldwide.
A gastrointestinal virus, it has spread into variants, with the most severe, known as CPV2, capable of killing dogs within days.
Sick dogs are treated for dehydration, but the virus can also damage intestines and bone marrow, requiring dogs to be kept in veterinary hospital.
Dr Fullerton warned the virus, which may have been introduced in an imported puppy that was only partially vaccinated, could linger for years in the environment.
“If there is a population of animals that aren’t vaccinated, it will be easily transmitted to them and the virus will keep circulating while the environment gets more contaminated.”
Andrew Madeiros of Ettrick Animal Hospital in Warwick said the clinic had been barraged with more than 40 cases.
He added: “The mortality rate is unfortunately quite high. Some dogs, it just overwhelms them.”
Dr Madeiros said vets had agreed to team up with the help of volunteers to supply jabs against parvovirus at low cost and at “multiple locations” as soon as possible, in perhaps two weeks.
Drive-through vaccinations were being considered.
“I suspect it’s going to get worse,” he said. “Cases are rising. I’m sure there are a number of dogs with it out there we’re not seeing. We’re probably seeing one case a day, possibly more.”
Again, nearly all cases were hitting young pitbulls, with Dr Madeiros faulting a rise in unregulated breeding and a reluctance among owners to get their animals vaccinated.
“That population is where this is going to spread,” he said.
Dogs must be healthy to get inoculated against the parvovirus, he added, with many owners unable or unwilling to pay for elaborate treatment.
“We’re hearing some people saying their next door neighbour’s dog died and now their dog is sick. But once the animal is sick, there’s not much we can do. It’s important to get dogs vaccinated while they’re healthy.”
Puppies require three shots and unvaccinated adults need two shots to get immunised.
He said the clinic was seeing cases come in from “all over the place”, and warned this could overwhelm vets’ capacity for giving intensive treatment to save the sickest animals.
Other dogs were improperly socialised or aggressive, making them harder to treat, he added.
Dr Madeiros advised owners of unvaccinated pets to avoid taking them into public areas where other animals might have tracked the virus.
At Bermuda Veterinary Services in Paget, owner Tonya Marshall reported on Wednesday that cases appeared to have fallen off, with no new dogs admitted for ten days.
But that changed on Thursday, with two cases admitted and another suspected case coming in yesterday afternoon.