Parvovirus and Your Dog

The Real Risks of Parvovirus

It has recently been brought to our attention that several dogs in the Upper Valley area have contracted Parvovirus. Although Parvovirus is a disease that we do see occasionally in our practice, its occurrence has been greatly reduced due to proper vaccination with the Distemper vaccine (which also offers protection from Parvo.) In order to be fully protective the Distemper vaccine must be given every 3-4 weeks from the time a puppy is 8 weeks old to the time they are at least 16 weeks of age. The vaccine should then be boostered every 1-3 years thereafter. Adult dogs who are vaccinated for the first time with the Distemper vaccine need to have a booster in 3-4 weeks, followed by a booster every 1-3 years.

Parvovirus typically affects puppies but can also affect unvaccinated or under-vaccinated adult dogs. Doberman Pincers, Rottweilers and Pit Bulls are at an increased risk. Most dogs contract Parvovirus through exposure to an infected dog’s feces. The virus is shed in the feces 4-5 days after exposure, and clinical symptoms do not typically occur until 6-10 days after exposure. This means that seemingly healthy dogs and puppies can shed the virus in their feces. Additionally, the virus is extremely hardy and can survive for a very long time in the environment. The virus can be carried on animals, people and objects and is not readily killed by heat, alcohol, or many other disinfectants. A 1:30 bleach solution is ideal for killing the virus in the environment.

Clinical signs of Parvovirus usually include severe vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea often contains blood and mucous and has a very strong smell. Lack of appetite, lethargy and fever can also be present. These symptoms occur after the virus has entered the body through the mouth and traveled to the intestines where it causes severe inflammation and death of the intestinal cells. The death and sloughing of the intestines can often lead to systemic infection (sepsis).

It is imperative that any dog who is experiencing severe diarrhea (especially those who have been knowingly exposed to Parvo or have not received their complete series of puppy vaccines) be tested for Parvovirus. Diagnosis of Parvovirus is usually done in the clinic using a fresh fecal sample. The test results are typically available in about 10 minutes.

There is NO CURE for Parvovirus. Treatment consists of supportive care which can become quite expensive. Supportive care includes IV fluids and electrolytes to combat dehydration, antibiotic therapy to combat infection, medication to stop diarrhea and vomiting, anti-inflammatories to decrease intestinal inflammation and occasionally blood transfusions to combat severe blood loss. Your pet has the best chance for recovery if a diagnosis is made early on and aggressive treatment is used. Even in these best case scenarios not all puppies can be saved.

Since there is no cure for Parvovirus and it can be an extremely expensive and difficult disease to treat successfully, prevention is imperative. The key to prevention is proper vaccination by your veterinarian. All puppies should receive a Distemper vaccine at approximately 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age with an additional booster given within 1 year. Limiting your puppy’s exposure to dogs with known vaccine histories until their 16 week vaccine has been given is also very important. Puppies who have not received their full puppy vaccine series should not be allowed to go to dog parks, pet stores and other public places frequented by dogs with unknown vaccine histories. Although socializing your puppy is extremely important, caution should be taken to ensure that dog to dog interactions are limited to fully vaccinated dogs in a clean and safe area. Due to the ease of transmission and the virus’ ability to survive for 3+ months in the environment, limiting your puppy’s exposure can be the difference between life and death.

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