Illegal puppy trade as a hotbed of deadly viral disease

Veterinarian Kirsten Tönnies explains: “Parvovirus had almost been eradicated in Germany since the implementation of vaccination in the late 1970s until early 2000. However, in recent years the number of cases has been increasing again. This is clearly due to the still increasing illegal puppy trade. The course of the disease is terrible for every single animal and ends fatally in most cases. Vaccination is the best protection against the disease and is an absolute standard in Germany. The disease therefore mainly occurs in animals from abroad – the connection with the illegal puppy trade is clear. Animals from illegal trade usually lack any medical care. Your still underdeveloped immune system is also overly challenged by the stress and fears, so that the immune system fails and the course of the disease is particularly dramatic. The viral disease is also traumatic for the new owners and involves high veterinary costs of up to 6,000 euros for treatment.”

The first major parvovirus epidemic occurred in the 1970s, killing thousands of dogs. The Animal Health Act in Germany aims to curb animal diseases. However, since there is no obligation to report parvovirus, the exact number of those affected cannot be recorded. Parvovirus infections are still common in unvaccinated dogs and are fatal in most cases. The virus poses a deadly threat, especially for young dogs: infected puppies often die before they are three months old as a result of inflammation of the heart muscle. The animals suffer from violent vomiting and watery, often bloody, diarrhea. In the worst case, the bone marrow can become infected. Infection occurs mainly through ingestion of infected faeces through contaminated feed, licking of fur, hands or textiles.

In the illegal puppy trade, criminal dealers use the anonymity of the internet to sell the mostly sick puppies on unregulated online platforms. The unsuspecting buyers are deceived with legitimate-looking ads, cute pictures and fake documents, and often pay several hundred or thousands of euros for a puppy. Before they are sold, the animals are often given a temporary boost with medication so that disease states are not recognizable. If the new owner notices that the puppy is severely weakened, the online report has already been deleted and the perpetrator can no longer be identified. Buyers then usually have to reckon with high veterinary costs, and it is not uncommon for their new family member to die after a short time or suffer lifelong consequences such as heart failure. A reliable verification of the identification of animals and sellers on all online platforms could end the illegal puppy trade and prevent enormous animal suffering.