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Parvovirus in Dogs – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

Picture of a dog in the grass

Canine parvovirus infection is one of the most contagious illnesses that can affect our friends. The virus can manifest itself in two specific forms. Before we move on and describe this disease, its causes, as well as its symptoms and treatment options, we have one important mention to make.

The most effective way of preventing this disease is by vaccinating your dog against it. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to telling you why canine parvovirus can affect your dog’s health to such an extent that he/she could actually lose his/her life.

Who is at risk?

Puppies that are younger than four months of age, along with adult, unvaccinated dogs, are more prone to developing the infection than healthy and vaccinated dogs. The virus affects the gastrointestinal tract and spreads from one dog to the other by contaminated feces or through direct contact. Even people can be the vectors of this disease.

The virus can also contaminate the food and water bowls, the dog’s living space, the leash or collar, as well as the clothing and hands of any individual that comes in contact with him/her. Unfortunately, it is one of the most resilient viruses that produce illnesses in our canine friends as it can withstand the cold, heat, humidity, drying, and it can even survive in the environment for a long time.

Causes of Canine parvovirus

Failing to vaccinate your puppy against Parvo can be a deadly mistake, and we do mean that literally. In theory, if you get your puppy from a responsible breeder that has vaccinated the mother in accordance with the advice of a veterinarian, the pup should be in the clear until the age of five to six weeks. If the mother wasn’t vaccinated, there was no immunity transmitted to the puppy.

An important note must be made regarding dogs that are vaccinated once and then still get Parvo. The vaccine needs to be repeated – just follow your vet’s advice. It is highly recommended that you avoid walking your very young puppy outside especially after the first vaccination because just one dose doesn’t ensure full immunity. In theory, you should keep your puppy only indoors until the vaccination plan is completed.

There are some breeds that are more predisposed to this disease, and they are Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, Alaskan sled dogs, as well as English Springer Spaniels. Because of their sensitivity, the veterinarian might recommend an extended vaccination plan if you are the owner of such a dog breed.

Symptoms

There are two major forms of Parvo in dogs – an intestinal form and a cardiac form. In the intestinal form, the dog will experience abdominal pain and bloating, lethargy and loss of appetite, vomiting and severe diarrhea, as well as either fever or hypothermia. Diarrhea can be bloody, which means that the dog is both becoming dehydrated and anemic. Following the onset of clinical signs, most deaths from this virus occur in the time span of 48 to 72 hours.

The cardiac form affects the fetuses or very young puppies and it usually leads to death as the virus attacks the pup’s heart muscles.

Diagnosis

There are several tests that can be performed in order for the vet to make the diagnosis. The problem is that in many cases, the dog loses his/her life until the results come in.

Diagnosing Parvo in dogs can be done through a special test for the parvovirus in feces, but other tests that could be done range from urinalysis to abdominal ultrasounds, biochemical tests, and of course, a physical examination. Fecal testing is one of the most effective methods of confirming the diagnosis.

Treatment of Parvovirus

Unfortunately, there is no specific medication at this time that can kill the virus in infected dogs. The treatment is merely intended to support the animal’s body until their immune system is capable of fighting off the viral infection. As such, the treatment needs to be initiated as quickly as possible and typically consists of intensive care efforts that have the purpose of combating dehydration by replacing protein, electrolyte, and fluid losses.

Medications that have the purpose of controlling vomiting and diarrhea or preventing secondary infections can also be administered to the puppy. It is acknowledged that, with the help of aggressive treatment and early recognition, the survival rate of a puppy with parvo can increase by 90%.

If you live in a home where several dogs reside, it is mandatory to isolate the infected dog from those that are still (apparently) healthy. Try to minimize the chance of the infection being spread by cleaning and disinfecting the contaminated areas or kennels where any of the infected dog (or dogs) have spent some time. Since the virus is not easily killed, we would recommend having a talk with your vet to find out what substances and disinfecting agents are best.

Prevention

As we mentioned in the beginning, nothing’s better than vaccinating your puppy against this disease, especially since there is no specific treatment at this point in time. Good hygiene is another critical component of prevention, especially if you are a breeder and one of your dogs was diagnosed with parvovirus.

Even though cases of parvovirus infections are somewhat less common in adults, it is a good idea to check your dog’s records and make sure that the vaccination plan is up to date. The dogs that are more exposed to this illness are those within the 6 weeks to 6 months age span.

To make sure that you limit your pup’s potential exposure to the virus even more, you should avoid bringing your pet to places where young dogs congregate (parks, puppy classes, pet shops, kennels, doggy daycare, or grooming establishments). Naturally, reputable establishments will show you the vaccination records of those dogs that are housed there, but you should always consider that people bring in their pups all the time, and what if some of them aren’t as responsible as you?

A small percentage of dogs are not capable of developing immunity against this disease, and as such, they remain susceptible to the infection, without you even knowing.

Can parvovirus be transmitted to humans?

The short answer to this question is no. Parvovirus (the one your dog can have, at least) is highly canine-specific, which means that it does not affect humans. That doesn’t mean that your dog can’t develop secondary bacterial infections and pose a threat to your family member’s health.

Try to do everything in your power to prevent this disease both to save your dog’s life and to avoid going through the trauma of losing a furry friend. Also, keep in mind that treatment can be very expensive, especially if you do not have pet insurance, and even if it could also not work.

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