Blog by Dr. Jena Webb
Canine parvovirus, aka Parvo, is a highly contagious virus that most commonly attacks the lining of the gastrointestinal tract in our canine friends. While all dogs are susceptible to contracting the virus, it is most commonly seen in puppies and unvaccinated adults. The virus is spread via direct contact with other infected dogs or through exposure to the feces of infected dogs. Exposure includes: people, places, and things that have come into contact with said dogs and/or feces. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying out, and has been known to survive in the environment anywhere from 6 months to 1 year!
The most common clinical signs associated with parvovirus include: diarrhea (often with blood), vomiting, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Affected pets can also experience alterations in body temperature (high or low) and abdominal pain. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration, low blood sugar, and electrolyte abnormalities. The loss of the intestinal lining also creates a potential for sepsis to occur. Most fatalities occur within 48-72 hours of the onset of clinical signs. Act fast if you notice any of these symptoms.
In most cases, parvo can be diagnosed with a quick fecal test in conjunction with history and physical exam. Full bloodwork is also helpful in allowing your veterinarian to determine the degree of dehydration and severity of electrolyte abnormalities in order to better develop a treatment plan for your pet.
Good news! With early recognition of clinical signs, a rapid diagnosis, and proper treatment, survival rate can be as high as 90% in most cases. Since this disease is caused by a virus, there is no antidote or magic potion to end the sickness. The body needs time to fight the virus on its own. Our goal is to provide supportive care to keep the body in top fighting shape. Mainstays of treatment include: fluids to correct dehydration with electrolytes and glucose added as needed, anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medications, and a lot of TLC. Antibiotics are used to combat secondary bacterial infections and prevent sepsis. Pain medications are occasionally needed for abdominal discomfort and cramping. Pets must be isolated during treatment due to the highly contagious nature of the virus. In addition, sanitation and disinfection are of the utmost importance.
More good news! While it can’t be 100% guaranteed, proper vaccination of your pup is going to be your best bet. Puppies should receive their first parvo vaccine between 6 to 8 weeks of age, then every 3 to 4 weeks after until 16 to 20 weeks of age. The frequency of this vaccine is necessary to create a good foundation in puppy’s budding immune system. Until all of these vaccines have been received, puppy should be kept away from stranger dogs, pet stores, kennels, and dog parks where this virus may be lurking. Remember, the virus can stick around for long periods of time. The parvo vaccine is boostered at the first annual exam, then every year or every three years at your veterinarian’s discretion. In addition, scoop the poop and wash the hands in order to prevent further spread of the virus.