Canine Parvovirus (or “Parvo) is contagious viral infection that is spread from dog to dog by direct or indirect contact with their feces.
Spread through fecal matter in dirt, it can also live on surfaces and objects such as shoes, food and water dishes, toys and bedding. Parvovirus can live in the ground long periods of time and is often found in yards and dog parks where infected pets have carried it.
Dogs that are treated early and aggressively usually pull through. However, chances of survival for puppies are much lower than older dogs. Even when dogs are given veterinary care, there is no guarantee of survival. Prevention and early detection are imperative.
Symptoms of Parvovirus
Common signs of the intestinal form are severe vomiting and diarrhea.
• Lethargy (lack of energy)
• Severe and/or bloody diarrhea
• Loss of appetite
The virus kills through a combination of attacks. Dogs that catch parvovirus usually die from the dehydration it causes, or secondary infections, rather than the virus itself. Diarrhea and vomiting leads to extreme fluid loss and dehydration that in turn leads to shock and death.
Treatment of Parvovirus
Hospitalization is required to treat parvovirus, where supportive care and antibiotics are administered. Treatments may vary, but certain aspects are considered vital for all patients. These include:
Administering intravenous fluids and nutrients to help the dog combat the severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that result from vomiting and diarrhea.
Antibiotics administered either through IV drip or injection to counteract the secondary bacterial infections that result.
Medications to control nausea and vomiting are sometimes added to the IV fluid bag or given as injections to combat the severe nausea.
Once the dog can keep fluids down, the IV fluids are gradually discontinued, and bland food is slowly introduced. Puppies with minimal symptoms can often recover in 2 or 3 days if the IV fluids are begun as soon as symptoms are noticed and a simple in house test confirms the diagnosis.
If more severe, depending on treatment, puppies can remain ill from 5 days up to 2 weeks.
A dog that successfully recovers from Parvo generally remains contagious for up to 3 weeks, and can possibly remain contagious for up to 6 weeks. Therefore infected dogs should be quarantined and have no, or limited exposure to other dogs until the risk has past.
Prevention of Parvovirus
Treating parvo can be costly (running thousands of dollars). Having your puppy or dog vaccinated to prevent parvovirus infection is the only effective prevention.
Puppies too young to receive vaccinations, or only partially through their vaccination regime, should have limited exposure to outdoor areas such as dog parks to prevent exposure to viruses such as parvo.
We often recommend this for all puppies until their vaccination series in completed at age 16 weeks..
The Parvo vaccine is usually given as part of a combination shot which includes, among others, the distemper and coronavirus vaccines. These shots are given every 3 to 4 weeks from the time a puppy is 6 weeks old until he is at least 16 weeks of age.
Since the introduction of effective vaccinations, parvovirus has become much less of a threat to domesticated dogs. That said, parvovirus is a serious illness if contracted, so taking the necessary step towards prevention is key to avoid putting your dog at risk.
All Creatures typically sees several puppies and dogs infected with Parvo Virus a month. It is still quite prevalent in our area, and we urge dog owners to bring their puppies and dogs in for proper vaccination to prevent this potentially fatal disease. The cost of prevention is quite minimal compared to the cost of treatment, and possible loss of your family pet.
If you have any questions about Parvo or other illnesses your dog could be exposed to please call and speak with one of our knowledgeable technicians.
Dr. Dan Meakin is founder and chief of staff of All Creatures Animals Hospital with offices in Amelia, Anderson, and Mt. Washington.