Dog owners urged to vaccinate pets against worst parvovirus outbreak in 20 years

Dog owners are being urged to vaccinate their pets against an outbreak of the deadly and contagious parvovirus.

The SPCA says it's the worst it's seen in Auckland in 20 years, and it's piling the pressure on a vet workforce already struggling with staff shortages.

Amber Sao's shar pei mastiff cross Massiah is one lucky pup. He survived the deadly viral disease, which attacks dogs' digestive systems.

Sao noticed Massiah was sick just hours after contact with a friends' dog.

"He was a bit lethargic, not moving around as much. He wasn't eating, he wasn't drinking, he basically was just hiding himself away," she told Newshub.

Things went downhill very quickly. After an urgent trip to an after-hours vet, some injections, and some blue Powerade, he pulled through.

"My family and I are very happy our boy pulled through, and that our family are able to give him the chance to live out his days with us," she says.

But then almost immediately, Sao's other puppy Layla also contracted parvo.

"It was like she was crying, she had tears coming out of her eyes," she explains.

Layla deteriorated much more rapidly. She didn't make it.

"It's not a good feeling when you have puppies that you want to raise with your family for the first time, that was our family desire," Sao says.

Parvo is fast-moving, highly contagious, and hits puppies hardest.

"The transmissibility is what makes it really lethal because it can spread so quickly between animals, and then on top of that it is very quick and severe on dogs' bodies," says SPCA senior inspector Georgina Higgins.

The SPCA says Auckland is experiencing its worst parvo outbreak in 20 years.

"This is certainly some of the most severe cases we see outside of things like terminal cancers, and it's very very swift, which is often the most traumatic aspect for families," says Higgins.

Some vet clinics are seeing up to 20 cases a day, and cases have also popped up in Wellington, Christchurch, and Northland.

"We are seeing more cases than normal in areas we wouldn't normally associate with the disease," explains Dr Grant McCullough, managing director of the Veterinary Hospital Group.

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.

There's no cure, and treatment is expensive. Prevention is the best chance dogs have.

"It's a really severe disease, without hospitalisation the prognosis is really poor, there's really high mortality rates. Fortunately we do have an effective vaccine," says SPCA science officer Dr Alison Vaughan.

Sao's puppies hadn't yet had their third parvo shots. It's a mistake she's desperate for nobody else to make, and is speaking out so other dog owners are aware of the virus.

"Please, please, look after them, and take them to their vets, go and get them vaccinated, I know the costings are up there but we have to do whatever it takes," she says.

But with nationwide staff shortages, vet clinics are feeling the pressure.

"The effects of the vet shortage means that people have been struggling to get appointments for routine things like vaccinations," says Dr McCullough.

Owners are being asked to wait until their puppies are fully vaxxed, usually at around 16 weeks, before socialising them.

"It's not OK to take your pup that isn't fully vaccinated to a dog park, for example. But if you were to talk to a friend, who had a fully vaccinated dog in a private back garden, that would be an appropriate puppy date," says Dr Vaughan.

Humans can transmit the virus to dogs through clothes and shoes. And because the hardy virus can live in the ground for months or even years, other basic etiquette applies.

"The less dog poop we have out there, pick up after your dogs, it would be really helpful," says Dr Vaughan.

Sao is now preparing to scatter Layla's ashes while trying to remain strong for her family.

"I was crying inside, because my daughter was there when she passed and I wasn't. So I had to be strong and not show my emotions, and be strong for my daughter," she says.

And she's hoping no dog owner has to go through what she has.