Parvo in Dogs – What is It and How You Can Prevent It
Parvo, officially known as canine parvovirus, or CPV, is a highly contagious viral disease. It is preventable with vaccines. Natural immunity is not preferable due to the suffering caused by parvo. Vaccines create immunity with a dog only enduring a shot. Immunity is for the dog’s lifetime and a lifetime can be cut short my infection with parvo.
Puppies and young dogs who have not received all their vaccines are at highest risk for developing parvo. Vulnerable canines are infected orally when they come into contact with a contaminated area. Dogs who are sick or even recovering from parvo pass can pass incredibly large numbers of the virus in their feces, and this dangerous virus particles can survive for months in the environment.
There’s evidence that the virus can live in ground soil for up to a year. Parvo virus is resistant to most cleaning products, or even to weather changes. Frost and snow cannot kill parvo. If you need to clean a parvovirus-contaminated area, first pick up and safely dispose of all organic material (vomit, feces, etc.), and then thoroughly wash the area with a concentrated household bleach solution. Bleach is one of the few disinfectants known to kill the parvo virus.
CPV is diagnosed with a physical examination, biochemical tests, and a special test for the parvovirus in feces. A urine analysis, stomach X-Rays and abdominal ultrasounds may also be performed. Low white blood cells and dehydration are indicative of CPV infection, especially in association with bloody stool. Blood and urine analysis may reveal elevated liver enzymes, lymphopenia, and electrolyte imbalances. Abdominal radiograph imaging may show intestinal obstructions, while an abdominal ultrasound may reveal enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, or throughout the body, and fluid-filled intestinal segments. Parvo is painful but also preventable and as a responsible pet owner, you have a duty to protect your pet.
It is important to retrace your dog’s steps for both possible exposure and potential contamination.
Is Parvovirus Treatable?
Since the disease is a viral infection, there is no cure for it. Parvovirus treatment is focused on treating the symptoms and preventing secondary bacterial infections, preferably in a hospital environment. Intensive therapy and systemic support are the keys to recovery. Care is palliative and supportive.
IV fluids and nutrition therapy are crucial in maintaining a dog’s normal body fluid after severe diarrhea and dehydration, and protein and electrolyte levels will be monitored and regulated as necessary. Dog medications that may be used in the treatment include drugs to stop vomiting, antacids, prescription pet antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infections, and vet-recommended de-wormers for parasitic infection.
The survival rate in dogs is about 70 percent when treated in the hospital, but death may sometimes result from severe dehydration, a secondary bacterial infection, sepsis or a severe intestinal hemorrhage. A good prognosis is sadly far lower for puppies, since they have a less developed immune system.
It is possible to treat parvovirus in your home under the direction of your veterinarian. It is a very laborious but can mean the difference between life and death when funds or circumstances do not permit in-hospital treatment. Your vet can teach you to give fluids and to monitor vital signs.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that parvo does not have to be deadly!
If dogs with parvo receive prompt and appropriate veterinary treatment, many can be saved.
Here are the symptoms of Parvo so you can protect your dog and others from Parvo:
One of the first signs that a dog is getting sick is a loss of appetite. This is especially true with parvo. In the early stages of the disease, the virus invades and starts to replicate within the lining of the digestive tract and other parts of the body. The immune system is also gearing up to respond. All of this can lead to a fever, lethargy and a loss of interest in food.
Most dogs with parvo will vomit. Initially the vomit may contain remnants of the dog’s food, but as vomiting continues all that comes up is a frothy mucus that may contain bile, a yellow-brown foul-smelling digestive fluid, or blood. The vomited blood can be bright red or partially digested, which gives it the appearance of coffee-grounds. As dogs with parvo become more dehydrated, they will try to drink, but anything they take in typically comes right back up. If a dog cannot hold down water or is vomiting repeatedly or has coffee-ground looking regurgitation- emergency vet care is required.
Diarrhea develops as the virus and the resulting immune response damages the lining of the intestinal tract. The intestines can no longer absorb water and nutrients and they develop microscopic holes. Fluid from the body can pass into the intestines, worsening diarrhea and dehydration. Blood vessels in the intestines may be damaged, causing blood in the stool and providing a route for bacteria to enter the dog’s circulatory system. This bacteria from the intestines entering the body is called sepsis and is eventually lethal, unless treated.
Parvovirus doesn’t just invade the lining of the intestines; it also attacks parts of the body. In puppies, this can include heart muscle, leading to chronic heart disease or death. Bone marrow can also be affected. The combination of a weakened immune response and bacteria entering the bloodstream through a damaged intestinal wall often results in bacterial pneumonia for dogs with parvo.
Most cases of parvo can be prevented with a series of vaccines that start when a puppy is around 7-8 weeks old. Puppies receive three or four parvo vaccines roughly every three weeks until they are 3-4 months old. Dogs should get a second vaccination one year later. Then most dogs only need a parvo booster every three years, or they can have an annual vaccine titer to check their immunity. For diseases like parvo, the benefit of vaccination, proven safe and effective, will always outweigh the costs associated with illness and treatment and the suffering a dog with parvo endures.