Parvovirus is a seriously devastating viral disease of dogs. It affects puppies under 5 months much more frequently than it affects adult dogs. In puppies under 8 weeks of age it can infect the heart muscle and lead to “sudden” death. Parvovirus likes to grow in rapidly dividing cells. The intestinal lining has the biggest concentration of rapidly dividing cells in a puppy’s body. The virus attacks and kills these cells, causing bloody brick-red diarrhea, depression and suppression of white blood cells — which come from another group of rapidly dividing cells. The only way to treat parvo is with IV fluids and anti-emitters (for diarrhea and vomiting); and hope that your puppy is strong enough to survive four days of hell. Only one out of my four strong, happy, vaccinated puppies has survived being infected with parvo.
I implore you, do not assume your puppy is safe from this disease. My dogs didn’t even leave the property to get infected. Due in part to the growing coyote population in North County, parvo is easily spread through coyote feces making it very difficult to contain the virus. Parvovirus is able to live in the soil for up to a decade!
It can be very difficult to successfully vaccinate a puppy for this disease because the antibody protection the puppy acquired from its mother can interfere with vaccination. Many vets recommend vaccinating puppies every three to four weeks for parvovirus starting at 6 weeks of age and continuing until they are at least 16 weeks of age, and preferably 20 weeks of age. It is possible that this vaccine confers lifelong immunity once it does work but some veterinarians continue to recommend yearly vaccination for it. It seems prudent to vaccinate your puppy before venturing off into grassy puppy wonderlands where parvo could be prevalent.
Parvo is a virus that attacks the lining of the digestive system. The virus inhibits the dog’s ability to absorb nutrients or liquids. Puppies are especially prone to it because they have an immature immune system. When dogs and puppies contract parvo, they often have diarrhea, vomiting and lethargy. Usually they stop eating and develop a bloody, foul-smelling, liquid stool.
Symptoms usually begin with a high fever, lethargy, depression, and loss of appetite. Secondary symptoms appear as severe gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting and bloody diarrhea. In many cases, dehydration, shock, and death follow.
Parvo can also attack a dog’s heart causing congestive heart failure. This complication can occur months or years after an apparent recovery from the intestinal form of the disease. Puppies who survive parvo infection usually remain somewhat un-healthy and weak for life.
Canine parvovirus is carried by dogs. Adult dogs may be infected carriers without showing any clinical signs. The diarrhea and vomiting associated with parvo is highly infectious.
It takes approximately 7-10 days from the time of exposure for dogs and puppies to start showing symptoms, and to test positive for parvo. False negatives and false positives are not uncommon.
Parvo is highly contagious to unprotected dogs, and the virus can remain infectious in ground contaminated with fecal material for nine months or more if conditions are favorable.
The ease with which infection with Parvo can occur in any unvaccinated dog must be stressed. The virus is extremely hardy in the environment. Withstanding wide temperature fluctuations and most cleaning agents. Parvo can be brought home to your dog on shoes, hands and even car tires. It can live for many months outside the animal. Any areas that are thought to be contaminated with parvo should be thoroughly washed with chlorine bleach diluted 1 ounce per quart of water.
Dogs and puppies can contract parvo even if they never leave their yards. Parvovirus, despite what you might hear, is NOT an airborne virus. It is excreted in the feces of infected dogs, and if someone — human, dog, bird, etc. — steps in (or otherwise comes in contact with) the excrement, the possibility for contamination is great. Some people speculate that birds invading a dog’s food dish can deposit the parvovirus there. If you think you may have come in contact with parvovirus, a strong solution of bleach and water does kill the virus, so you can wash your shoes and clothes, even your hands with it, to reduce the risk of infecting your dog.
Parvovirus is specific to dogs alone and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets of a different species, such as cats.
Without intense treatment, the victims of parvo die of dehydration. Treatment generally consists of IV or sub-cutaneous fluids and antibiotics. There is no cure. Veterinarians can only treat the symptoms palliatively, and try to keep the dog alive by preventing dehydration and loss of proteins. As there is no cure for any virus, treatment for parvo is mostly that of supporting the different systems in the body during the course of the disease. This includes giving fluids, regulating electrolyte levels, controlling body temperature and giving blood transfusions when necessary.
Dogs who have survived parvo can get it again. In the case of some puppies, a puppy testing negative for Parvo one day could succumb to the virus within a matter of days. It strikes fast and without mercy.
This is a very serious disease. Some puppies infected with parvovirus will die despite prompt and adequate treatment.
Due to the high death rate, parvovirus gets a lot of free publicity. Many people just assume that any case of diarrhea in a dog is from parvovirus. This is not true. There are a lot of other diseases and disorders that lead to diarrhea. If you have a puppy, don’t take any chances. Have your puppy examined by your vet if diarrhea is a factor in any disease. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.
If your dog becomes infected with parvovirus, he/she has about a 50-50 chance of survival. If the dog makes it through the first three to four days, he/she will usually make a recovery within a week. It is vital, however, that he/she receives supportive therapy immediately. It must be stressed that this is not a bad case of doggy flu; without medical treatment, most puppies die.
The surest way to avoid parvo infection in your dog is to adhere to the recommended vaccination schedule which begins when puppies are 6-8 weeks of age. Puppies should not be allowed to socialize with other dogs or frequent areas where other dogs have been until 2 weeks after they have had their last vaccination. Immunization for parvo is usually included in your dog’s distemper vaccine. This shot gives protection against several potentially fatal canine diseases all at the same time.
If your pet becomes infected, please keep in mind that dogs with parvo shed the virus in their feces and are extremely contagious to other dogs. Follow these recommendations to help prevent the spread of this disease.
- Keep the infected dog isolated from all other dogs for at least one month after full recovery.
- Clean up all the dog’s stools in your yard. Do not compost.
- Use a 1:30 ratio of chlorine bleach and water to clean food and water bowls (4 oz. in 1 gallon of water). Wash any bedding the dog has been in contact with in this same bleach solution and hot water. You should also try to disinfect any other areas that the dog has been, like linoleum, concrete kennels, crates, etc.
- If you have any other dogs that are two years old or younger, or who have never been vaccinated for parvo, please consider a booster vaccination.
- Be sure to feed your dog a bland diet until he or she is fully recovered. Rice and goat milk yogurt is recommended.
You can have a veterinarian draw blood and run a titre to find out how well your prospective dog will fare in a parvo-infected environment. Adult dogs generally have a higher resistance than puppies. If in doubt, have your vet do the titre.
I want a dog, but now I’m too afraid. What can I do?
Perhaps, instead of bringing a puppy home, adopt an adult dog from an animal shelter such as the Helen Woodward Animal Center or Escondido Humane Society.
Written By: Tasha Ardalan,
Founder of Foxy Treats..for the Love of Dog