AN OUTBREAK of a deadly dog virus in the region has prompted a warning from vets.

Dog owners are being urged to ensure their pets' vaccinations are up to date after the deadly, and highly contagious, Parvovirus broke out in the Redcar area.

There have also been cases confirmed in Darlington and Bishop Auckland in recent weeks.

Clinic director and vet Katherine Claxton, from White Cross Vets in Redcar, said: "There were more cases this summer than we have seen in ten years.

"The prolonged hot weather helped spread the virus, which mainly exists within the dog poo of infected dogs and is normally washed away into the earth when it rains, causing no harm.

"Without rain, the virus remains on the ground and is more likely to infect other dogs, especially because it can survive outside the body for many months."

Even with wetter weather recently, there have been several cases confirmed.

Ms Claxton said: "We want to warn dog owners to be vigilant for the symptoms as it can take up to a fortnight for dogs to display them after being exposed to the virus.

"All dog owners in the area therefore need to be aware of this outbreak, which is one of the most contagious and dangerous disease that dogs face, and can often kill within a few days."

She said the deadly disease attacks the intestine and white blood cells, and when young dogs are affected it can damage the heart muscles and cause lifelong cardiac problems."

Symptoms include diarrhoea, severe vomiting, loss of appetite or weight loss, dehydration, bloody faeces, a high temperature and lethargy.

Dog owners can avoid the disease by keeping up to date to vaccinations.

Most of the cases seen locally are young dogs who have fallen behind with injections or puppies not fully vaccinated although it can happen in older dogs whose injections are not up to date.

Why Do We Vaccinate Dogs?
Vaccinations protect against infectious diseases which can be fatal.
Vaccinations protect your dog against:
1. Parvovirus
A highly contagious virus spread through contact with infected faeces. The virus can also live on shoes, clothes and floors for many months. Symptoms include vomiting, severe bloody diarrhoea and lethargy. Parvovirus can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases. Puppies are especially susceptible.
2. Canine distemper
A contagious virus spread through saliva, blood, or urine. Initial symptoms include red, watery eyes, nasal discharge and fever. Later symptoms include lethargy, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and seizures. It can also cause hardening of the footpads and nose. It is fatal in up to 50 per cent of cases. 
3. Leptospirosis
A bacterial infection spread through infected rat urine and contaminated water. Symptoms include fever, muscle tremors, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst, jaundice and breathing difficulties. In severe cases dogs can develop kidney damage and liver failure. It can be fatal even with the best treatment.
4. Infectious Canine Hepatitis
A viral disease spread through urine, saliva, blood, faeces and nasal discharges. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, vomiting, coughing, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. In severe cases the disease can cause jaundice and liver failure, and can result in seizures and coma. Even with the best treatment severe cases of infectious canine hepatitis can be fatal.

Optional additional vaccinations are also available for Parainfluenza and Kennel Cough which cause upper respiratory tract disease.
Puppies can start their vaccinations from 6-8 weeks old with a second vaccination 2-4 weeks later. Pups should not mix with other, potentially unvaccinated dogs until their primary vaccine course is complete. 
Booster vaccination are required for distemper, parvovirus and infectious hepatitis every 3 years and for leptospirosis every year.