By Dr. Bell
Spring is Here and with it new puppies and kittens. There are many things to consider when bringing a new puppy or kitten into your home. One of the most important, is vaccinations for your new arrival.
Puppies and kittens as well with all mammals, are born with a limited immunity against diseases from their mothers. They also receive protection via passive transfer from their mother’s colostrum (first milk). However, if the mother was not properly vaccinated prior to pregnancy or the kitten/puppy did not consume enough colostrum, they are at risk for diseases such as parvo virus and panleukopenia.
A mother’s antibodies in a new puppy or kitten are only effective until approximately 6 to 9 weeks of age. Every animal loses their protection at different rates. This why it is so important to start vaccinating a puppy or kitten at 6 to 8 weeks of age, with booster vaccines every 3 weeks until they are approximately 16 weeks old. It is crucial to have two vaccinations over 12 weeks of age in order to get full protection.
Puppies are not considered protected against parvo until after their third vaccine and in some high risk environments, not until the fourth booster. Parvo virus is transmitted by infected dogs via vomit and diarrhea. An unprotected puppy will be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then start showing signs 3-7 days after. Clinical signs usually start with depression, lethargy, then vomiting and diarrhea. There is not a cure for Parvo, only supportive care until the puppy’s immune system can recuperate. The intestinal lining is a very important part of the immune defense system. When the virus destroys the intestinal lining, secondary infections are very likely. Death may occur 50% of cases or more. The younger and smaller the puppy, the higher risk of death.
Parvo is a very sturdy virus and can live in a moderate environment indefinitely. It can be killed by very cold winters and hot dry summers, or by thoroughly disinfecting an environment. Most disinfectants including bleach are inactivated by organic materials, such as grass, dirt, feces, etc., making elimination in yards and carpets almost impossible. It also effects coyote packs and possibly carried by raccoons. Isolated dogs and puppies can have exposure.
Kittens are susceptible to a similar disease as Parvo, called Panleukopenia. Panleukopenia is an older virus and may have mutated into the Parvo virus. Kittens exhibit a similar disease process and elimination problems as puppies with parvo. Kittens often die before the vomiting and diarrhea are noticed.
Parvo and panleukopenia are very difficult to treat due to severity and speed it affects young animals and also because of how contagious it is. It can wipe out whole litters in a matter of days. In the clinic, treatment includes strict isolation for these patients. Veterinary doctors and staff must use very strict protocols to prevent spread to other animals in the clinic and boarding areas. This greatly increases the cost of in hospital treatment. Without vaccines, the only way to prevent infection is to eliminate exposure. That can be impossible due to environmental restrictions. Vaccination is our best defense. Even if your puppy or kitten is on a proper vaccination schedule and is exposed to one of these disease, his or her chance of survival is much greater than with no vaccines.
The next most common time to see parvo and panleukopenia is when the first yearly vaccine is due. Adult animals are also at risk if they don’t have proper vaccinations prior to exposure. Please keep your adult pet’s vaccinations current to help keep them healthy and reduce transmission to other pets.
It is always less expensive to prevent the disease with vaccinations than it is to treat!
I, as most other veterinarians, would love to never see parvo or panleukopenia in our hospitals and communities.
If you have any questions regarding vaccination protocols and what is best for your new pet and your adult pets, please contact us or your regular veterinarian.
I wish everyone a fun and safe spring and summer for you and your four-legged friends.
Dr. David A. Rustebakke
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