The SPCA says it is battling a major outbreak of deadly canine parvovirus in Auckland, issuing an “urgent plea” for dog and puppy owners to vaccinate their pets against the disease.

Canine parvovirus, often referred to as parvo, is an extremely contagious and potentially fatal disease which affects dogs and puppies.

Symptoms include lethargy, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhoea leading to life-threatening dehydration. Parvo can survive in certain environments for up to a year, making it easy for unvaccinated dogs to become infected.

While it’s common to see an increase in cases during the summer months, this season has been particularly bad, the SPCA said.

“Auckland’s Inspectorate has so far responded to 54 calls for assistance relating to dogs or puppies that are sick with the virus since December 1, and SPCA’s Auckland Centre on average is seeing almost 40 cases a week presenting at the centre by members of the public seeking assistance.”

“This is one of the worst outbreaks some of our Auckland Inspectors have seen to date, and our resources are currently being stretched by this vicious disease,” the SPCA’s Corey Regnerus-Kell said.

“The majority of the calls we’re receiving are for financial assistance to help treat dogs or puppies infected with parvo, which can be costly. We are also seeing an alarming number of cases where dogs are being left untreated and are suffering dearly as a result.”

Regnerus-Kell said the animal charity is seeing a “major trend” of dog owners being unable to afford vaccinations or treatment for their sick pets.

The only way to prevent parvo is through vaccination. Puppies require a series of vaccinations before they are full protected, and adult dogs must receive a regular booster vaccination.

The virus is shed in a dog’s faeces and vomit, and is transmitted by direct contact or through surfaces contaminated with the virus such as bedding, cages, food dishes, or the hands or clothing and footwear of people who come into contact with the infected dog, their faeces or vomit.

“Unfortunately, due to the increased financial pressure many New Zealanders are experiencing right now, some pet owners have put off vaccinations for their dogs or puppies, or have chosen to forgo them altogether.

“This is a painful and debilitating illness and sadly survival rates are very low. We don’t want any animal to suffer from parvo, especially as it’s so easily preventable. It’s also devastating for the infected animal’s owner to see their beloved pet suffer, and in many cases, die as a result,” Regnerus-Kell said.

Until puppies are fully vaccinated against parvo, people should avoid walking them in high-risk areas such as parks, car parks and footpaths, and should avoid them coming into contact with unvaccinated dogs.

The SPCA said socialisation can still be done safely by only introducing puppies to healthy, vaccinated dogs in private areas, such as one’s garden or puppy classes, and carrying them in areas where unvaccinated dogs may have been.

“Speak to your veterinarian for advice, and make contact early to ensure you can get your dog vaccinated as appropriate.”