Like little humans, puppies are vulnerable to a number of contagious diseases and viruses since their immune systems are not yet fully developed. If you’ve got a new pup or even an older dog from an animal shelter or a friend, you need to protect your new pet from the potentially deadly canine parvovirus.
What is Parvo?
The deadly canine parvovirus is commonly referred to as parvo or “CPV-2” by veterinarians. Once it is contracted, parvo is a very contagious virus that can affect all dogs. Unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are the most at risk for Parvo. The virus most often affects the lymph nodes, blood stream and small intestines of dogs. Some also see an affected heart. It can be fatal if not noticed or treated quickly.
How Does a Dog Get Parvo?
The virus enters the body through the mouth as a puppy or dog cleans itself or eats food off the ground or floor. A minuscule amount of infected feces (stool) is all it takes.
Parvo is typically spread directly from dog to dog, but contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people can also spread the disease. Once infected, a dog with parvo may contaminate food, water bowls, collars, and leashes - as well as a dog’s bedding or crate. Once a dog or puppy is infected, there is an incubation period of three to seven days before the onset of first symptoms.
Pet owners can transmit parvo infections through their hands, clothing and shoes if they touch infected dogs and their stools. The parvovirus is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods of time.
Signs that Your Dog May Have Parvo
Dogs that develop parvo will show symptoms three to 10 days after being exposed. Symptoms include: vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea (usually bloody) and fever. The gastrointestinal tract is where the heaviest damage occurs.
Parvoviral infections are characterized by a drop in white blood cell count due to a bone marrow infection. The dog’s diarrhea may become bloody and bacteria can enter the body, causing widespread infection, as the virus destroys the bone marrow's ability to create infection-fighting white blood cells.
Early recognition of the signs of parvo by pet owners, followed by a quick diagnosis and an aggressive treatment plan at the vet can boost survival rates to 90 percent.
If your puppy or dog shows any signs of parvo, see your veterinarian immediately.
A parvovirus infection is diagnosed based on a dog’s history, a physical examination, and laboratory tests. Common lab tests include the ELISA, PCR and complete blood count evaluation. Each test provides slightly different information, and sometimes more than one type of test may be done by your vet.
What Types of Dogs are Vulnerable to Parvo?
Parvo most often strikes in pups between six and 20 weeks old, but older dogs are sometimes also affected if they have not been vaccinated. (A rare variant of the disease may be seen in very young (neonatal) puppies is myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle).
Parvo first emerged among dogs in Europe around 1976. By 1978 the virus had spread unchecked, causing a worldwide epidemic of myocarditis and inflammation in the intestines.
We now know that the virus is not limited to companion dogs, but is capable of causing infections in wild canines such as coyotes and wolves.
How Do I Prevent Parvo in My Dog?
Until a puppy has received its complete series of shots, pet owners should use caution when bringing their pet to places where young puppies congregate (e.g. parks, puppy classes, doggy daycare, boarding kennels, and groomers).
Vaccination against CPV-2 and good hygiene are how best to prevent the disease. Young puppies are most susceptible to infection, particularly because the natural immunity provided in their mother's milk may wear off before the puppy's own immune system is mature enough to fight off infection. If a puppy is exposed to canine parvovirus during this gap in protection, they may become ill.
To provide the best protection against parvovirus during the first few months of life, a series of puppy vaccinations are administered by your vet:
Veterinarians typically administer the parvo shot as part of a combination vaccine, which often includes the distemper, canine adenovirus, and parainfluenza vaccines. These shots are given every three to four weeks from the time a puppy is six weeks old until they are at least 16 weeks of age.
If you do not have an early shot record for your pet, bring in your puppy to receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age to develop adequate virus protection.
Booster vaccinations are recommended one year later, and then again at three year intervals for the life of your dog.
To protect all adult dogs, pet owners should be sure that their dog’s parvovirus vaccination is always up-to-date.
What is the Treatment for Parvo?
Intensive care treatment is given by a veterinarian to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte, protein and fluid losses, controlling vomiting and diarrhea, and preventing secondary infections. Sick dogs are kept warm and receive nursing care at the vet hospital or clinic. Since parvovirus is highly contagious, any infected dog is isolated to minimize the spread of infection.
Proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated bedding, crate, kennel and other areas where infected dogs are housed is essential to control the spread of parvo. Your veterinarian will provide specific guidance on cleaning and disinfecting agents for your home.
Have a new puppy or a dog who is new to you? Now is a perfect time to come in for a checkup and vaccines, including for canine parvovirus.