Parvo: Potential Puppy Peril

What is canine parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus (parvo) is one of the most common and severe GI diseases of dogs.  Parvovirus is an extremely hardy virus that can be spread when a dog comes into contact with the feces of an infected dog.

Parvovirus most frequently attacks puppies younger than 1 year of age.  The virus is extremely contagious and strikes rapidly and without much warning.  As many as 25% to 50% of infected puppies die from the disease if not diagnosed and treated immediately.

Once the virus enters your dog’s body, it multiplies in the bone marrow, intestinal tract, and immune system causing life-threatening damage to your dog’s immune system and intestinal tract.  Without rapid diagnosis and treatment, your dog may die from dehydration and/or bacterial infection.

Prevention of canine parvovirus:

Prevention is simple (and easier on your pocket book!) than if your dog contracts canine parvovirus.  Vaccinating your puppy against canine parvovirus can be effective at drastically reducing disease incidence.  Vaccination begins at 6 to 8 weeks of age, with booster shots every 3 to 4 weeks until your puppy is 16 to 18 weeks old.  After that, annual boosters maintain immunity.

VACCINATION DOES NOT PRODUCE IMMEDIATE IMMUNITY, SO SUSCEPTIBLE PUPPIES SHOULD BE KEPT ISOLATED.  It is best to avoid taking your puppy to areas with lots of “dog traffic” until he or she completes the vaccination period and has full immunity.  Until full immunity is obtained, your dog can easily contract parvovirus anywhere dogs come together, such as parks and kennels. The virus is very stable in the environment, but may be destroyed by the use of 1:30 bleach solution (1 part bleach to 30 parts water).

Symptoms of canine parvovirus:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody and/or profuse diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal discomfort

The combinations of symptoms vary, therefore, parvovirus is difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone.

Diagnosis of canine parvovirus:

A rapid, in-clinic test is crucial for diagnosis and appropriate therapy. Early diagnosis is critical to providing immediate and life-saving treatment.

Treatment of canine parvovirus:

Prompt treatment can result in a >75% survival rate.  Treatment is primarily aimed at correcting dehydration and preventing fatal secondary bacterial infections.  For a mildly affected pet (usually an adult dog, >1 year of age), outpatient care can be all that is needed.  Severely affected pets (typically puppies) generally require hospitalization for intensive therapy and supportive treatment, including:

  • Intravenous fluid therapy
  • Correction of electrolyte levels
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Attentive nursing care
  • In severe cases, plasma transfusions may be necessary

Your veterinarian may use other diagnostics (i.e. bloodwork) to monitor your dog’s condition.  Successful recovery usually takes about 3-7 days of intensive veterinary care.  Aggressive therapy improves survival, but mortality rates may still approach 25%.

Remember, if you think your dog may have parvo, seek veterinary attention immediately.

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