Canine parvovirus (parvo) is a specific kind of virus that attacks the intestinal tract of dogs (it does not affect humans or cats). Parvo can be a deadly threat to an unvaccinated dog or puppy. Parvo is extremely hardy; it can survive sweltering heat and subzero temperatures for long periods of time. The most common exposure route to this virus is contact with an infected dog's feces; however, because the virus is so hardy, it is possible for people's shoes and/or clothes to transmit the virus as well. The most important fact about canine parvovirus is that it can be prevented!
An unvaccinated dog that ingests the virus will likely get the disease. Ingestion occurs when a dog licks or eats anything containing the virus. Dogs of either sex, and any breed or age can become infected with parvovirus, although Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers have a higher susceptibility to the virus than other breeds.
Because parvo is spread so easily, unvaccinated dogs that are more frequently exposed to other dogs' feces (i.e. in parks, doggie daycare, pet shops, kennels, etc.) are at higher risk. Puppies are at particular risk of severe illness (or possibly death), as their immune systems are incapable of handling the effects of the disease. Puppies younger than five months of age are the most severely affected - as well as the most difficult to treat. Parvovirus is seen more frequently in puppies with unvaccinated mothers and in puppies from unclean environments (puppy mills) contaminated with the disease.
Physical manifestation of parvo generally occurs within 5-7 days of the virus's ingestion. If you observe any of the following symptoms in your pet, call your veterinarian immediately. He/she will examine your pet, and perform clinical tests to determine the cause of these signs of gastrointestinal disease:
o Vomiting and severe diarrhea (sometimes with blood);
o Loss of appetite;
o High fever (104°F-106°F)
At this time, there is no way to kill parvovirus in dogs. However, symptom treatment is available to control the physical signs/complications of the disease, including intravenous fluids to reduce dehydration and electrolyte imbalances in your pet. Antibiotics may also be used to control secondary infections. Your veterinarian will likely give your pet medication to control vomiting and diarrhea as well. Puppies with parvovirus are generally hospitalized - in isolation from other animals - until they recover. It is imperative that you take your dog immediately to the veterinarian should you suspect a parvovirus infection. Any delay can significantly reduce your pet's chance for survival.
Most veterinarians recommend multiple parvovirus vaccinations for your growing puppy to establish protective immunity, which can reduce the risk of the disease. Once your dog has been vaccinated, booster shots can help maintain your pet's immunity. Prevention is the key - vaccinate your pet against this damaging and potentially deadly disease!
Pets Best Insurance is located in Boise, Idaho and provides pet insurance for the healthcare of dogs and cats. Jack Stephens, DVM is the president and co-founder of Pets Best and was the original founder of pet health insurance in the United States.