The consequences of a parvovirus (parvo) diagnosis can be dire for your pet. Yet, although parvo is a common disease, the infection can be prevented in your pet. The team at Caldwell Animal Hospital wants to educate you on this important topic, to ensure your dog’s good health.

Question: What causes parvo in dogs?

Answer: Parvo is an extremely contagious virus that attacks the stomach and small intestine of puppies and dogs, and most commonly affects unvaccinated dogs and puppies between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months. Puppies younger than 6 weeks have immune protection from their vaccinated mother, and they should be fully protected by immunization after 6 months. Parvo is resistant to heat, cold, drying, and several common cleaning products, making the virus difficult to eliminate. Also, the virus can live for at least two months indoors at room temperature, and, if protected from direct sunlight, can endure for months, and sometimes years, outdoors.

Breeds most at risk for parvo include:

  • German shepherd
  • American pit bull terrier
  • Rottweiler
  • Doberman pinscher
  • English springer spaniel

Q: How could my dog become infected with parvo?

A: The virus is shed in the feces of infected dogs four to five days after exposure, during the illness, and for about 10 days after recovery. The three common transmission methods are:

  • Contact with infected dogs—dogs can be contagious before they start showing signs
  • Contact with infected fecal matter
  • Contact with contaminated items such as shoes, food bowls, leashes, collars, kennel surfaces, hands, and clothing

Q: What are parvo signs in dogs?

A: Signs usually appear four to five days after initial exposure and include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Inappetence
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Severe, bloody diarrhea

The virus damages the dog’s intestines and immune system, while the vomiting and diarrhea lead to critical dehydration. The white blood cell count is reduced, making fighting off the disease more difficult. As the disease progresses, septic shock may occur, and heart abnormalities have resulted in some cases. The dog’s blood pressure may plummet and the lack of oxygen will cause their body organs to fail. At this stage, the dog will likely die.

Q: How are dogs with parvo diagnosed and treated?

A: Diagnosis is usually based on the history and signs, plus a fecal test for confirmation. No medication to specifically treat parvo is available, and intense supportive treatment early in the disease process is the only way to save the dog. Treatment may include:

  • Fluid therapy — Fluid therapy is key to correct the dehydration caused by the vomiting and diarrhea, along with medications to reduce these problems.
  • Nutritional support — Dogs who cannot eat because of their ongoing illness will need nutritional support. In these cases, the dog is fed a liquid diet through a tube that is placed through their nose and extends to their stomach.
  • Antibiotics — An antibiotics course may be administered to help prevent secondary bacterial infections, which can occur as bacteria cross the damaged intestinal wall.
  • Plasma transfusion — In severe cases, a plasma transfusion may help by replacing protein levels and counteracting the inflammatory response.

Sick pets are extremely contagious, and must be isolated for up to 10 days after recovery. While visiting your dog in isolation, you will need to wear protective clothing and gloves, and to use a foot bath of dilute bleach to disinfect footwear. When returning to a well dog, you should shower and change clothes to prevent spreading the infection. A dog who survives their first 48 to 72 hours has a greatly improved prognosis, so immediate veterinary intervention is necessary for a dog exhibiting parvo signs.

Q: How can I protect my dog from parvo?

A: Parvo vaccines are highly effective, although vaccinated pets are not 100% protected. Puppies should begin receiving their shots between 6 to 8 weeks of age, with a second shot at 10 to 12 weeks, and a third at 14 to 16 weeks, followed by a booster shot at 12 months, and then every three years. Do not allow your puppy to socialize with any puppies or dogs whose vaccination status is not known. Regardless of their age, keep your dog away from other dogs’ excrement. Keep your dog’s vaccines current so their immunity does not lapse. Before boarding your dog, ensure that the facility requires proof of a current  parvo vaccination. 

Parvovirus is an alarming, serious disease, but the illness can be prevented by taking the appropriate measures—with vaccination paramount. Contact Caldwell Animal Hospital immediately if you are concerned your puppy or dog may be showing parvo signs, or to schedule their vaccination to ensure their protection and good health.