GettyImages 1210828938 min

Don’t put off puppy vaccinations as parvovirus cases surge - NZVA

Published on 6 March 2024.

As veterinarians report seeing a significant increase in the number of parvovirus cases, the New Zealand Veterinary Association Te Pae Kīrehe (NZVA) is calling on puppy owners to prioritise essential vaccinations to prevent heartbreak.

“It is important that new puppy owners factor in the cost for the course of vaccinations when they purchase or acquire a puppy,” says NZVA Head of Veterinary Services – Companion Animal, Sally Cory. “Vaccination is a highly effective way of avoiding parvovirus and the associated cost are far less than managing a very unwell puppy.”

Sally, who also works as an emergency vet at the Wellington After Hours Veterinary Clinic, says her team is currently seeing cases of parvovirus on a daily basis, some of which have resulted in death. “There is definitely a significant amount of parvovirus around at the moment…it’s been one of the worst I’ve seen in 20 years with many people struggling to prioritise the cost of their pet’s vaccinations,” she says. “Unfortunately, parvovirus is catching people out and instead they’re having to pay for intensive treatment or having to make tough calls about putting their animal to sleep, if the dog is very unwell.”

Parvovirus is a highly contagious, viral disease affecting the dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

Those most at risk are young (six weeks to six months), unvaccinated, or incompletely vaccinated puppies. Parvovirus can be passed on when dogs sniff, lick or eat contaminated faeces, or through encountering food and water bowls, or footwear that contains the virus. The signs of parvovirus usually occur within five to seven days of exposure and may include lethargy, lack of appetite and fever that then progresses to vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. The disease can progress quickly, and severe disease often results in death.

Sally says parvovirus has always been prevalent in some urban areas. This year, cases appear to be on the rise, especially in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch. “We understand finances are tight and it’s hard to prioritise vaccinations when you have a happy, bouncy puppy in front of you,” Sally says. “However, we urge new puppy owners not to delay vaccinations or assume they'll be okay. It’s heartbreaking when we see people bring their puppies in for emergency treatment when we know the illness is preventable.”

When purchasing a puppy, be certain you know if vaccinations have been started or not and when the next booster is due. If you are advised they have had their vaccinations, then you should receive a vaccine certificate booklet with confirmation. If you have no proof that vaccinations have been administered, then always assume the puppy has not been vaccinated and discuss this with your veterinarian.

At the same time as preventing the risk of parvovirus, owners should not forget that it is extremely important puppies are well-socialised between the ages of three weeks and 12-16 weeks. To help socialise puppies before they have completed their vaccinations, the NZVA encourages owners to enrol their pet in puppy classes, and check out the Puppy Socialisation Bingo chart from Fear Free Pets for more ideas.

If adult dogs received their full puppy vaccination programme, they should receive their first parvo booster at 12 months, and then every three years, Sally says.

 Reduce the risks of your puppy contracting parvovirus

  • Get them vaccinated by a veterinarian. Parvovirus is highly preventable with the right vaccinations.
  • Keep them away from unvaccinated dogs and public areas where dogs commonly walk.
  • Keep them restricted to properties with no history of parvovirus as the disease can survive in affected areas for years.
  • Make sure no one is bringing potentially contaminated material on to your property (remember to ‘clean the poo from the shoe!’)
  • The incidence of parvovirus varies between locations. Talk to your veterinarian about the local parvovirus risk, and an appropriate vaccination and socialisation programme for your puppy.

For more information about accessing emergency veterinary care, visit