Canine Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are the most at risk. Dogs that are ill from canine parvovirus infection are often said to have “parvo.” The virus affects dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts and is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces, envioronments, or people. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle affected dogs. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying. The virus can survive in the environment for long periods of time. Even trace amounts of feces from an infected dog may harbor the virus and infect other dogs that come into the infected environment. The virus is readily transmitted from place to place on the hair or feet of dogs via contaminated cages, shoes, or other objects.
Signs of Parvovirus
Some of the signs of parvovirus include lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or low body temperature (hypothermia), vomiting, and severe and often bloody diarrhea. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, and damage to the intestines and immune system that can cause septic shock.
If your puppy or dog shows signs, you should contact Companion Animal Hospital immediately. Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48 to 72 hours following the onset of clinical signs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Parvovirus infection is often suspected based on the dog’s history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Fecal testing can confirm the diagnosis. No specific drug is available that will kill the virus in infected dogs. Treatment is intended to support the dog’s body systems until the dog’s immune system can fight off the viral infection. Treatment should be started immediately and consists primarily of intensive care efforts to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte, protein and fluid losses, controlling vomiting and diarrhea, and preventing secondary infections. When a dog develops parvo, treatment can be very expensive, and the dog may die despite aggressive treatment. Early recognition and aggressive treatment are very important in successful outcomes. With proper treatment, survival rates are at 90%.
Since parvovirus is highly contagious, isolation of infected dogs is necessary to minimize spread of infection. Proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated kennels and other areas where infected dogs are (or have been) housed is essential to control the spread of parvovirus. The virus is not easily killed.
Vaccination and good hygiene are critical components of prevention.
Young puppies are very susceptible to infection, particularly because of the natural immunity provided in their mothers’ milk may wear off before the puppies own immune systems mature enough to fight off infection. If a puppy is exposed to canine parvovirus during this gap in protection, it may become ill. An additional concern is that immunity provided by a mother’s milk may interfere by parvovirus and develop disease. To provide the best protection against parvovirus during the first few months of life, a series of puppy vaccinations are administered. Puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 weeks and 16 weeks of age, regardless of how many doses they received earlier, to develop adequate protection. To protect their adult dogs, pet owners should be sure that their dogs’ parvovirus vaccination is up to date.
Finally, do not let your puppy or adult dog come into contact with the fecal waste of other dogs whilst playing outdoors. Prompt and proper disposal of waste material is always advised as a way to limit the spread of canine parvovirus infection as well as other diseases that can infect humans and animals. Dogs with vomiting or diarrhea or other dogs which have been exposed to ill dogs should not be taken to kennels, show grounds, dog parks, or other areas where they will come into contact with other dogs. Similarly, unvaccinated dogs should not be exposed to ill dogs or those with unknown vaccination histories. People who are in contact with sick or exposed dogs should avoid handling other dogs or at least wash their hands and change their clothes before doing so.