Parvo Virus

Puppy with blood in poo.

It’s one of the most common consults we see as small animal veterinarians. There are a lot of things that can cause it, so we ask owners a number of questions to try and narrow down the most likely explanation. At the top of our list of questions is “Has your puppy had his vaccines?” And we breathe a huge sigh of relief when the answer is “Yes,” and we are presented with a vaccination record signed by a fellow veterinarian.

Sadly, all too often the answer is “No, I’ve been meaning get around to that. Can you do that today?” or “The breeder told me he was but I didn’t get a card,” or sometimes “No, I don’t believe in vaccines.” Without any evidence that a vaccine has been administered correctly by a veterinarian, or even that a vaccine has been given at all, it would be irresponsible of us to assume that the puppy is fully protected. And unfortunately any animal that is unwell cannot receive a vaccine because the immune system is already working hard to fight an illness, so asking it to deal with a vaccine can be overwhelming. This means that it can cause an existing illness to worsen, and that the vaccine itself may not be effective. So we reach to the refrigerator, not for a vaccine, but for a Parvovirus test.

The next several minutes are nerve wrecking as we wait for the test to run. With a bit of luck, the result is negative, and with a few more questions we identify another likely cause of the bloody poo. Common culprits include:

* Change in diet – Puppies (and kittens) have very sensitive tummies. Sudden changes in food can cause diarrhoea and/or blood in the faeces. We always recommend that any pet’s food be change gradually over a period of 7-10 days.

* Dietary indiscretion – This is a fancy term for eating something they shouldn’t, a very common scenario in puppies as they tend to explore the world with their mouths. It can cause problems for the same reasons as sudden changes in diet, as well as the potential to pick up a variety of infections.

* Parasites – Gastrointestinal worms tend to be the most common cause, though there are also few other parasites that can cause diarrhoea. Many owners are told that their new pups have been dosed for worms, which can certainly be a sign of a sensible breeder, but remember that not all parasite treatments are created equal. There are a variety of medications available, each of which will treat a different assortment of parasites, so it is important to seek advice from your vet to ensure that your pet has been covered for the most relevant ones based on his/her symptoms and likely exposure.

Inevitably though, some Parvovirus tests will turn up positive. And with great concern we must inform owners that their beloved little pup has a potentially fatal infection. We generally try to avoid scaring owners with statistics, but the truth is that the mortality rate of Parvovirus infection in puppies can be as high as 90% without aggressive treatment. In the best case scenario, the gloves and plastic gowns come out, the puppy is admitted to hospital, and spends the next several days to weeks in an isolation ward being treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, nutritional support, and intensive nursing care. As a veterinary team we do everything we can, and thankfully often do succeed in returning the pup to health, but it does require significant investment of both time and money. And sadly, despite our best efforts, not every puppy will survive. It is absolutely heart-wrenching for vets and owners alike to watch a vibrant young life withered away and lost to a preventable disease.

Please believe that we want the best for your little pup just as much as you do. We know how quickly they become part of the family, and we love hearing the stories of mischief and mayhem, the difficulties in house training, how well he gets on with the cat (or how much they torment each other!). We also understand that between breeders, vets, fellow pet owners, and Dr. Google, there is a lot of information available, and it can be difficult to suss out what is the best advice. This can be particularly true with vaccines, which are a frequent point of controversy these days. Our job is work with you to make the best decision for your pet’s health, so please, talk to us about your concerns. But please also trust us when we say we would much rather reach to the fridge for a vaccine than a Parvo test.

Colostrum Large Animal

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

If you've ever raised a calf, you've probably heard the 1-2-3 rule of colostrum management: feed from the 1st milk, within the first 2 hours of life, and at least 3 litres.

Why is this important?

Colostrum provides not only nutrition, but also essential immunity to the newborn calf. This immunity helps protect them against common infections such as scour and pneumonia, and can make the difference between a strong healthy calf that never sees a vet, and an ill-thrifty calf that requires numerous costly vet visits and antibiotics.

Following the 1-2-3 rule maximises the benefit of this immunity. Using the cow's first milk and giving at least 3 litres ensures that the calf's first feed is packed with strong immunity and nutrition. It is essential that they receive this as soon as possible, always within the first 2 hours of life, because their ability to absorb this immunity starts to decline almost immediately after birth.

But wait, there's more!

Following the 1-2-3 rule has lifelong benefits. Not only do calves with good colostrum management thrive better, they are proven to be healthier and more productive adult cows.

Not all colostrum is created equal.

What exactly makes colostrum 'high quality?'

* Immunity content - IgG is an immune protein which can be measured as an indication of the overall level of immunity contained within the colostrum. The higher the IgG, the stronger the immunity the calf receives. Good colostrum should contain at least 50g/L of IgG.

* Nutritional content - colostrum should contain a complete and balanced diet for the newborn calf, including vitamins and minerals.

* Free from contaminants and pathogens - Colostrum is of little use if it exposes the calf to potentially serious infection. Colostrum should contain as little bacterial contamination as possible. Colostrum from cows with diseases which are transmittable through milk (such as mastitis, Johne's disease, Mycoplasma, or Salmonella) should not be fed.

Colostrum quality varies significantly between cows for a variety of reasons

* Breed - Though the quality of the colostrum itself does not vary predictibly between breeds, the large volume of milk produced by dairy breeds means that if there is any delay between birth and the first feed of colostrum, the concentration and therefore the level of immunity the calf receives is rapidly reduced. For this reason dairy cows have a reputation (though perhaps an unfair one) of having poorer colostrum than beef cowsd, and dairy calves a weaker immune system.

* Age - Like a good wine, colostrum gets better with age. Older cows generally produced better quality colostrum than heifers.

* Overall health - Cows with better nutritional status and which are free from illness will produce better quality colostrum as they are able to devote more resources to it. Cows with nutritional deficiencies, particularly selenium or vitamin E deficiency which are often seen in the Wicklow area, will produce smaller quantities of lower quality colostrum. Colostrum from cows which are in any way ill should never be fed to calves as this can transmit disease.

* Vaccination - The value of the immunity provided by colostrum is maximised if it is tailored to the diseases the calf is likely to be exposed to - vaccinations are a great way to achieve this. Vaccines given around 3-6 weeks pre-calving, usually for causes of scour such as Rotavirus, Coronavirus, E. coli, and Salmonella, stimulates the cow to produce specific immunity against these diseases which is transfered in the form of IgG into colostrum and on to the calf.

* Dry period - The dry period should be at least 3-4 weeks, any less than this doesn't allow the mammary glands sufficient time to rest and recover before the demanding process of making colostrum, and does not allow enough time for response to vaccines and transfer of IgG. A dry period of at least 40 days will maximize the volume of colostrum produced.

What else do I need to know?

How to feed - Don't rely on the calf! Even if you see them stand to suck, you can never be sure what volume they have taken. Calves should always be stomach tubed or bottle fed so there is no doubt as to exactly how much they have recieved.

Colostrum storage and thawing - Colostrum from healthy cows (rather than heifers) should be frozen and stored in 1L containers which can be gently and evenly thawed in warm water (temp no greater than 50C). Colostrum should never be microwaved or placed in boiling water. It can be safely stored for up to 12 months at -18 to -25C, or up to 24 hours in a refridgerator. Colostrum from neighbouring farms should be avoided due to risk of introducing disease.

Artificial colostrum - There is absolutely no comparison to the real thing. Colostrum from the cow has richer nutrition, stronger immunity, and is absorbed much better. Replacement colostrum can be used in an emergency, but products are variable so make sure to ask your vet for advice.

How do I know I'm getting it right?

Measuring colostrum

* RID - The gold standard of measuring colostrum quality, but expensive and samples must be sent to a lab, so it's not a very practical test.

* Brix Refractometer (Optical or Digital) - A small sample of colostrum is applied and a digital reading is given. A brix reading of >22% correlates to >50g/L of IgG and therefore an adequate level of immunity.

* Colostrometer - A glass float which is placed in room temperature colostrum. The higher the IgG content the more dense the colostrum, and the higher the colostrometer floats above the surface. They are generally marked to indicate good, adequate, and poor colostrum quality.

Measuring calf immunity (Calves 1-3 days old)

* Total Protein Refractometer - A small blood sample can be taken and the serum separated out. A drop of serum is applied to the refractometer and reading taken of the total protein, which can be used as an indicator of the level of IgG in the calf's bloodstream. This value should be at least 5.5g/dL to indicate adequate transfer of immunity, <5.0g/dL indicates complete failure of immune transfer. This is not a reliable test in sick or dehydrated calves.

* Brix refractometer - Uses calf serumm very similarly to a total protein refractomer, however the measurement is taken on the Brix scale. The exact cutoff hasn't been firmly established, but a reading of at least at least 8-10% suggests adequate transfer of immunity.

* ZST - A lab test run on a small blood sample. Results of 16-20 are acceptable, but should be at least 24 to confirm successful transefer of immunity.