Parvo is a potentially serious viral disease in dogs. The virus that causes this disease is known as Parvovirus. Parvovirus causes a severe and sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea. Most susceptible dogs are unvaccinated, Rottweilers, or under the age of 4 months. The virus can take a happy, playful puppy to a comatose pup in less than twenty-four hours. If left untreated, the disease is fatal.
The virus first appeared in the United States in 1978 and almost immediately became widespread throughout most countries. Originally, no dog had been exposed to this virus and there was no vaccine available, therefore, dogs of all ages died from this virus. Canine Parvovirus is thought to be a mutation from the feline Parvovirus that causes Panleukopenia, also known as distemper.
The Parvovirus is very hardy and is able to last anywhere from 1 to 7 months in the environment. It can survive heat and subzero temperatures. Large amounts of virus particles are shed in the feces of an infected dog. Once the dog is no longer sick, he or she will continue to shed the virus for two weeks or more. Therefore, a dog can come in contact with the virus simply through exposure with a healthy dog, your shoes, car tires, and any sidewalk. It is virtually impossible to keep your pet from coming in contact with the virus. These factors also make it impossible to eradicate the virus.
Clinical signs of Parvo can vary from undetectable to severe. The virus is in the body for 3-10 days before clinical signs appear. In the beginning, infected dogs may be lethargic and refuse to eat. Typically, they get a fever, become depressed and eventually start to have either diarrhea or vomiting or both, resulting in severe dehydration. The diarrhea can be very watery; blood tinged or have blood in it. The diarrhea has a characteristic foul odour. In rare cases, the virus may attack the heart muscles resulting in sudden death of young puppies.
Puppies under the age of 4 months are at the greatest risk of being fatally infected. Vaccinated puppies and adult dogs are less likely to be infected and will not manifest as a severe case. Some breeds tend to be at a higher risk. These are the Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd and Pit Bull breeds.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for Parvo. The treatment protocol is primarily focused on supportive care while the body eliminates the virus from its system. Supportive care includes hospitalization and IV fluids to replace fluid and electrolyte loss from the vomiting and diarrhea. The dogs are typically fasted, to slow down the disrupted digestive tract. Broad spectrum antibiotics are used to combat secondary infections. Medications to alleviate the vomiting are used in the hospital. Hospitalization is, on average, 3-5 days. Giving a prognosis is difficult before the first 48 hours of treatment. With prompt hospitalization and treatment, survival rates approach 80% in dogs over 8 weeks of age.
Parvovirus is a devastating infection for puppies. It is everywhere in the environment and can be fatal in less than one day. Therefore, prevention is extremely important. Parvovirus vaccines are readily available and are highly effective. At Twin Valley VHS, we recommend all puppies be vaccinated at 8 weeks of age and then every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. Once a puppy has had a complete vaccine series, Parvo vaccine is done on an annual basis.
If you have any questions regarding the above information or any concerns in general, please contact Twin Valley VHS at 745-6642.
Dr. Justin Noble DVM
Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services