This Month We Focus on Parvovirus in Dogs….. Few things are as fun as watching a litter of puppies playing together. To make sure each one has the opportunity to grow into a healthy adult, it is important they each get a full set of vaccinations. One of the most important is the parvo vaccine.
What is Parvo? Parvo is short for canine parvovirus, a group of viruses that were first discovered in the 1970s. These viruses are highly contagious and frequently fatal. Puppies are particularly susceptible to the disease, as are the adult dogs of certain breeds including Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, Labrador retrievers, Chihuahuas and German shepherds.
The virus destroys the first layer of the intestinal lining and causes severe and frequent bloody vomiting and diarrhea. It also reduces the white blood cell count, making it harder to fight off other infections, and may attack the heart muscles.
How is it spread? A dog can contract parvo through contact with an infected unvaccinated dog, but that contact does not have to be direct. The virus can live in the environment for up to a year and therefore can be spread by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog’s feces.
How can you tell if your dog has parvo? Contact your vet immediately if you notice your dog has a fever or is experiencing weakness, severe vomiting, loss of appetite, depression or bloody diarrhea. The disease can cause death within a few days, so don’t delay. There is a quick test that is 96.9% accurate in diagnosing whether your dog has parvo, and other tests are available if the first one is inconclusive. Many veterinarians perform a blood test before beginning treatment and again after 24-48 hours because recent research has shown that this gives a good indicator of how the disease is progressing and your dog’s chances of survival.
How is it treated? Parvo is an extremely hardy virus. There are no drugs that can kill it, but there are steps your veterinarian can take to improve your dog’s chances of survival. The diarrhea and vomiting will cause your dog to lose a lot of water, and since parvo destroys the intestinal lining, fluids and medicine should not be given orally. Instead, veterinary professionals provide intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, drugs to control the vomiting and antibiotics to prevent additional infection. This treatment may require around a week of hospitalization, and your dog should not be in contact with other dogs or public dog areas for several weeks afterwards to keep it from infecting other dogs.
How can I keep my dog from getting parvo? Treating parvo is expensive and is not always successful, so it is far better to keep your dog from getting the disease in the first place. To do this, you must make sure your dog receives all necessary vaccinations.
Since puppies are particularly susceptible to parvo, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends that they receive their first vaccination when they are six to eight weeks old. Then, because substances in the mother’s milk may keep the vaccine from being fully effective, boosters should be given at three to four week intervals until they are 16 to 20 weeks old. Another booster should be given one year later, and thereafter as directed by your veterinarian. Adult dogs who have never been vaccinated should receive one initial vaccine and one booster two to four weeks later, followed by vaccinations as often as your veterinarian sees fit.
As a further step, if there has been an infected dog in your house or yard, clean any dog bowls, floors or other surfaces using a mix of one ounce of chlorine bleach in one quart of water. Any chew toys, blankets or other items that can’t be disinfected should be thrown away.
By following these steps you have an excellent chance of keeping your dog from catching parvo in the first place, or surviving it if it does. If you have any further questions, be sure to ask your veterinarian when you bring your dog in for its next appointment.
Written by: Victoria J. Winfield, DVM