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Parvo vaccine spurs debate among dog-care professionals

An outbreak at a Thunder Bay dog shelter has sparked a debate over pet vaccines.

Some say parvovirus vaccinations need only be done once in a dog's lifetime

Thunder Bay veterinarian Dr. Jeff Kubinec says vaccination practices have changed in recent years, but it's still recommended that most dogs get regular shots. (Adam Burns/CBC)

An outbreak at a Thunder Bay dog shelter has sparked a debate over pet vaccines.

Canine parvovirus, or parvo, claimed the lives of six dogs at a city-run animal services building, but not everyone agrees on how best to protect against the disease.

Thunder Bay veterinarian Jeff Kubinec said views on vaccines have changed during the 30 years he’s been practising.

"I would say that the research over the past few years has concluded that the vaccinations can be done less frequently," he said.

Some people believe one vaccination should protect an adult dog for life against parvovirus and other illnesses.

Kubinec said the vaccine for parvovirus was once given to adult dogs on an annual basis, but research now proves that's not necessary.

Kubinec recommends updating a dog's shots every two to three years, but "some practices will still vaccinate annually,” he said.

“It depends on the situation. If there's maybe a high incidence of parvovirus, or a particular disease in the area, they may want to do it more frequently," he said. "But the research is showing that the vaccinations will protect — with the parvovirus, for sure — for up to three years."

Dana Scott disagrees.

Dana Scott, editor-in-chief of Dogs Naturally magazine, says pet owners need a "reality check" when it comes to vaccines. (Supplied)

"I think it's time for a reality check, and for people to step back and look what we're doing to our dogs,” said the editor-in-chief of Dogs Naturally magazine in Beeton, Ont.

Scott is not against vaccines entirely, but said one shot will usually protect an adult dog for life against parvo and other illnesses.

"The problem I have is that animals are vaccinated over and over and over again with these core vaccines when they don't need to be," she said.

Kubinec said it's possible to test animals during annual check-ups to determine if they need an update on their vaccine, but overall, he thinks the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

Kubinec said he was a bit surprised at the recent outbreak of parvovirus, given the low number of cases he's seen recently.

But he noted the disease is "ubiquitous" around the city's dog parks and other areas where pets frequent.

"Pretty well any place where a dog has passed some stool, there's going to be parvovirus there," he said.

CBC News spoke with business owners in the pet industry in Thunder Bay. Two of them expressed similar concerns about the frequency of vaccines, but declined to go on record for fear of possible negative effects on their relationships with local veterinarians.

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