Deadly dog virus hits crisis levels in Cape Town just before busiest season

14 November 2018 - 12:07 By Francine Barchett
Canines with parvovirus suffer from loss of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhoea
Canines with parvovirus suffer from loss of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhoea
Image: Supplied

As animal welfare organisations prepare for their busiest time of year, clinics and veterinary services are facing the added burden of an outbreak of the potentially deadly parvovirus among dogs in Cape Town.

The workload ahead of the Christmas season includes normal vaccinations and check-ups. In addition, over the festive season many pets are abandoned and need rescuing.

This year an unusually high incidence of the canine virus, reported across the city, will exacerbate the workload and costs.

"We’ve learned first hand that parvo is extra bad this season," said Lesley Jones, director of Pet Farewells, an organisation that collects and disposes of 1,500-2,000 pet and animal carcasses each month. She said staff at the animal clinics she deals with expressed concern.

Parvo is a highly contagious and often deadly disease that spreads through dogs’ faeces. Symptoms include vomiting, distinctively scented diarrhoea, loss of energy and loss of appetite.

It's the worst influx of parvo patients in the 22 years of our existence
Mdzananda Animal Clinic

Karen de Klerk, who heads the Cape Animal Welfare Forum, representing animal rescue shelters in the Western Cape, confirmed that infection reports were up across the region.

The Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha has been overwhelmed with the "worst influx of parvo patients in the 22 years of its existence", said manager Susan Wishart.

While the clinic usually sees around 14 parvo patients a month, last month it had seen 45, the organisation confirmed. "Our vets think that the recent heat wave could have triggered the outbreak," said Wishart.

Parvo is preventable if pet owners take their dogs for a three-part vaccination, starting when dogs are six weeks old, and return for a booster shot each year, the clinic advises.

But at R300 for the full vaccination, it is not something that all dog owners can afford. "It’s not an option for some people. We support animals but we also support people," said Wishart.

Treatment of infected dogs is even more costly. At the Mdzananda clinic, it runs to almost R6,400 per animal.

The nonprofit organisation is appealing to the public to donate money to help deal with the crisis that will strain already-stretched resources, as it approaches the "busy season" for abandoned pets. 

"We see a lot of undernourished dogs coming in during the holidays because people haven’t talked about who’s going to take care of them while they’re away," said Wishart.