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New program to train Manitobans in remote, northern areas to vaccinate cats and dogs

A veterinary group says it will soon offer the first program of its kind in Canada to train everyday people to vaccinate and deworm cats and dogs in communities that have historically lacked access to those services.

The Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association’s limited access vaccinator program will send licensed veterinarians to remote and northern communities as well as all First Nations in the province, training people to deworm and administer different vaccines to cats and dogs.

“We hope to see many more animals in these communities being vaccinated for rabies, but also distemper and parvovirus,” Corey Wilson, executive director of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association, told guest host Cory Funk on CBC Radio’s Radio Noon on Friday.

The program, created in partnership with the Winnipeg Humane Society and the Manitoba government, is set to launch in June.

LISTEN | New program to help vaccinate more Manitoba cats, dogs:

Radio Noon Manitoba6:01Veterinarian Association helping rural and northern pets

CBC Guest Host Cory Funk speaks to Corey Wilson, Executive Director of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association, about the Manitoba Community Vaccinator Program and why it’s important. 

People trained in the program will also learn how to administer non-prescription deworming medication and other over-the-counter medications, as well as microchips and a combination vaccine for cats.

Dr. Gina Bowen, director of veterinary services at the Winnipeg Humane Society, was on the committee that put together the proposal for the new vaccinator program.

She says licensed veterinarians and veterinary technologists will also teach people how to store and transport the vaccines, as well as how to document them and to be aware of possible side effects. Pet owners need to provide permission for the vaccines.

She hopes the program leads to increased protection against rabies, distemper and parvovirus, which means better animal health “and less chance of passing these viruses to other dogs,” she said.

“All three of these things are easily prevented with vaccination.”

Half of all dogs infected with canine distemper — an extremely contagious airborne virus that affects the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems — die without treatment, she said.

Bowen says distemper can also affect wolves, foxes, coyotes and is common in some remote Manitoba communities.

Parvovirus is a highly contagious and potentially fatal illness for dogs. Bowen says without treatment, 90 per cent of dogs infected with the virus die.

Since April 2014, provincial data says there have been 133 confirmed cases of rabies among animals in Manitoba, which mostly affected striped skunks. Together, cats and dogs make up just under 16 per cent of those cases.

Rabies attacks the nervous system and changes an animal’s behaviour once it is infected. Symptoms can include walking abnormally, difficulty swallowing, drooling or foaming at the mouth.

Control spread, exposure

Rabies is typically transmitted to people from the bite of a rabid animal through direct contact with its saliva. People can first feel tingling around the wound or scratch, then weakness, fever or headache. Muscles can become paralyzed followed by coma and eventually death.

Manitoba Health says no human cases of rabies have ever been recorded in the province.

Wilson said the aim of the vaccinator program is to control the spread of rabies in the province, which will also prevent human exposure.

“Once a human shows signs of rabies, unfortunately it’s a fatal disease,” he said.

“So any time someone comes in contact with an animal that is suspected to have rabies, they need to undergo a lot of medical treatment to ensure that they do not themselves develop rabies.”

The program also comes in light of a veterinarian shortage across Manitoba, for which Wilson says there’s no relief in sight.

“As we face a shortage, that just becomes so much more challenging when they can’t meet the current caseload that they have at their day-to-day job.”

He says he’s grateful the province provided more funding in 2022 to increase the number of spots available for Manitoba students at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine each year, from 15 to 20.

“But based on our shortage numbers, that’s still likely not enough,” he said.

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