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While the pandemic prompted a much needed pet-adoption boom, COVID-related measures may have also spurred a decline in pet vaccinations, leading to considerable animal suffering and death across the U.S.
BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, which has over 90 pet hospitals in 26 states, has observed an alarming 70% increase in the number of parvovirus cases and hospitalizations amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
While data is still being analyzed, financial strain on pet parents, delayed vaccinations and routine vet visits, and increased exposure to outdoor environments are are possible causes of the 70% spike in cases.
Analysis of data from BluePearl’s more than 90 pet hospitals showed a 70% increase in the number of parvovirus cases relative to ER cases in 2020 as compared to the same time periods in the past five years (2015 to 2019).
Parvovirus, or parvo, is a highly contagious, potentially deadly disease that attacks the gastrointestinal tracts of infected canines. While puppies are most at risk for contracting parvo, any unvaccinated or partially vaccinated dog can contract the disease through dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people. If left untreated, most parvo deaths occur within 48 to 72 hours. However, survival rates can approach 90% with proper treatment.
“We are in the very early stages of analyzing this data; looking for possible causes of the increase and determining what the implications are for this and other preventable companion animal diseases,” remarked James Barr, DVM, DACVECC, Chief Medical Officer, BluePearl Pet Hospital. “Parvo outbreaks pose a serious threat to our canine friends but skipping routine vaccinations could also put human health at risk through the possibility of rabies exposure. As invaluable sources of emotional support as well as sentinels and potential vectors of infectious disease, it is vital pets receive all preventative care vaccines, and owners adhere to the timing requirements of those vaccines.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, many people turned to animals for companionship. This resulted in significant fostering and adoption of shelter animals. Some of these shelter animals may have been released without completion of their vaccination series. Stay at home orders also prompted a trend in people spending more time outdoors, which could have increased environmental exposure (i.e. dog parks). Other possible causes for the uptick include disruptions in the timing of or prevention of puppies receiving full vaccine series, resulting in incomplete immunity, and financial hardships, such as job loss, preventing or delaying owners from seeking routine vaccinations.
“If the U.S. continues to see COVID-19 cases increase or a second wave, this may exacerbate these trends and further harm our pets,” explained Lenore Bacek, DVM, MS, DACVECC, Clinical Programs Manager, BluePearl Pet Hospital. “To prevent further increase, and to ensure this does not happen again, veterinary hospitals and related businesses must continue to be recognized as essential services. Owners must also be vigilant not to bring their dogs or puppies to dog parks or other high traffic areas until fully vaccinated. As we delve deeper into this data, we hope to better understand the complexities of this parvovirus outbreak, as well as shine light on the value veterinary medicine brings to public health.”
While dogs and puppies may begin showing signs of parvovirus between three to ten days after exposure, they are often contagious before visible symptoms. If you suspect your pet has parvovirus, immediately isolate your pet and contact your primary care veterinarian.
About BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital
Founded in 1996, BluePearl is one of the largest specialty and emergency veterinary practices in the U.S. today. BluePearl has more than 90 hospitals in 26 states that together employ 5,900+ Associates, including 1,160+ veterinarians, 1,650+ veterinary technicians, and 3,000+ other professionals. Each year, our compassionate teams provide high-quality care for over one million pets and their families. BluePearl clinicians also participate in clinical studies to discover new treatments and procedures that improve pet health. As part of the Mars Veterinary Health family of brands, BluePearl is committed to its purpose—A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS®—because pets make a better world for us. Learn more at https://bluepearlvet.com/.