Street dogs more vulnerable to distemper, parvovirus, say experts

Chennai: Statistics provided by Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) shows that there are 57,300 stray dogs in the metropolis. With so many animals roaming the streets without proper care, experts and animal activists are concerned about the increasing incidence of canine distemper, parvovirus and tick-related diseases among dogs.

When asked about the total number of cases in the city, a source from GCC said, “Around six-seven dogs with parvovirus and three-four distemper cases are being seen per week in clinics attached to the Corporation.”

On the rapid increase in distemper cases, Chennai-based dog rescuer Dinesh Baba, said, “When the officials vaccinate the dogs or to sterilise, the chances of canine distemper spreading from the infected animal to another is more as they are left in packs. Anti-rabies vaccination (ARV) is done on the spot. This is the main reason for the spread of distemper which has been on the rise in recent days among one-year-old dogs and the ones that have undergone surgeries.”

Activists state that the two viral conditions lead to 100 per cent mortality when the case is in advanced stage, but curable during early stages. To ensure the animals do not contract the viruses, Dinesh advises vaccinating stray animals once a year to provide immunity.

He further states that there is no provision in government norms to vaccinate street dogs. “The corporation officials just carry out ARV drive often to prevent rabies infection. Otherwise, the responsibility totally lies with locals. If a person feeds a few stray dogs in her/his locality, s/he must take the extra effort of taking it to a veterinary doctor for vaccination. The vaccination is provided at subsidised cost in government hospitals.”

Recently, Kumar, a resident of Choolaimedu, encountered a dog that was contracted with distemper.

“The stray, that was probably a year old, was unstable, and the symptoms showed that it has been affected by the virus. Soon after diagnosis, the animal was taken to Madras Veterinary College (MVC), where the doctor was even reluctant to touch the animal, fearing contamination. I was told that it was in an advanced stage,” he said.

When he consulted Blue Cross of India, Kumar was advised to isolate the dog and take it off the streets. Experts suggest the dogs must be kept in quarantine or in isolation during the course of treatment as it is contagious.

Symptoms of canine distemper are mucus formation, lethargy, mellowed barks, recurring high fever, and for parvovirus it can be identified with bloody stools that stink like rotten fish.

“With regard to parvovirus, it spreads in the case of both direct and indirect contact. A dog that is not vaccinated contracts it even if it walks along the pathway of an infected animal,” explained Dinesh.

On the manifestation of the viruses, he added, “Activation of the organism depends on the immunity level of the animals. If the dog is vulnerable, the symptoms will show up immediately.”

A GCC source stated that strays are being vaccinated on a regular basis. “When the animals are brought for sterilisation, they are vaccinated against rabies. We have not yet planned to conduct a camp. Now, only Madras Veterinary Hospital can vaccinate against distemper and parvovirus,” said the source.