Millions of family pets are at risk from killer diseases because they are missing out on simple vaccinations, veterinary charity PDSA has warned.
Preventable diseases such as parvovirus, leptospirosis and feline leukaemia can cause widespread deaths, say vets.
Diseases prevalent in wild animal populations, such as myxomatosis in rabbits, can also spread to their domestic counterparts, the charity adds.
The latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report reveals that more than 5 million dogs, cats and rabbits have never been vaccinated with a primary course, leaving them unprotected against dangerous illnesses which can take hold suddenly.
PDSA also reports that one in three pets are not receiving regular booster vaccinations. This is leaving them exposed to deadly bacteria and viruses as well as reducing the effect of ‘herd immunity’, it says.
PDSA vet Vicki Larkham-Jones said: “As a vet there is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing an animal lose its life to a disease that could have been prevented.
“Many pet owners don’t realise the dangers of diseases like parvovirus until it’s too late. It’s a severe viral infection which is highly contagious and commonly leads to septicaemia and death in dogs.
“Our research found that nearly a quarter of pet owners that haven’t vaccinated their pets think vaccination is unnecessary. The figure among rabbit owners that don’t vaccinate is even higher, with one in three citing this reason for not vaccinating.
“This is obviously very concerning and shows we need to raise awareness of how essential vaccinations and regular boosters are.”
Research by the organisation shows pets in Wales are at greater risk than those in England and Scotland of contracting deadly preventable diseases, as 30% of pets in Wales have not received their primary vaccination course.
Other high risk areas for pets include the East Midlands (29%) and West Midlands (28%) as well as London (28%).
PDSA is aiming to vaccinate more than 60,000 pets this year through its network of 51 pet hospitals.
Selby, a Husky, was treated at its Bradford pet hospital after he contracted parvovirus.
Owner Christopher Brook, 31, bought Selby as a puppy from a breeder and had only enjoyed four days with him when the deadly virus began to take hold.
PDSA vet Kirsty Warren said: “There is no cure for parvovirus so all we could do was treat him with antibiotics, anti-sickness drugs and intravenous fluids, and hope that he would be strong enough to pull through.
“He spent nearly a week in intensive care and, as this was such a highly contagious disease, we had to use barrier nursing techniques to isolate him and prevent it spreading to any other pets in the hospital.
“Thankfully Selby eventually began to turn the corner and started on the road to recovery. But he is one of the lucky ones because many dogs don’t survive.”
Mr Brook described the period Selby was in intensive care as heartbreaking.
He said: “It was absolute agony; I was so worried about him but at the same time I felt helpless.
“I can’t thank the vets and nurses at PDSA enough, they’ve saved his life and I’ll always be grateful to them.”
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