by Jason Smith
It is one of the deadliest diseases known to dogs. Puppies are its primary victims. It can also be a difficult disease to treat and manage in outpatient and inpatient veterinary medicine. I’m talking about parvovirus.
Canine parvovirus “emerged as a clinical problem in 1978” (Prittie, 2004, p. 167) and has mutated into three distinct strains since then. The most recent strain, CPV-2c, “was recently detected in cats” (João Vieira, et. al., 2008, p. 678). The purpose of this article is to give you information you can use to help prolong the life of your companion animal. By the end of this article, you should be able to recognize signs and symptoms of canine parvovirus (CPV), you should know when to seek veterinary treatment, and you should know what you can do to prevent this disease from occurring in one of your companion animals.
A Personal Story
As a veterinary technician, I’m certain I have encountered CPV more than once; however, there is one instance that sticks out in my memory because it affected me greatly.
It was only a few weeks before the Army moved me from Osan Air Base, Korea to Fort Knox, KY. I was the on-call technician for the Osan AB Veterinary Clinic when a 3-year old German Shepherd Dog was brought in for vomiting and diarrhea. Initially, the symptoms did not look like parvovirus, so the veterinarian had prescribed some medication to manage the vomiting and diarrhea. After a few days, the dog’s symptoms did not improve and actually worsened. At this point, we conducted a fecal float test to rule out parasites. The results were negative. In Korea, we did not have access to the SNAP Parvovirus test so we had to use blood work to confirm the diagnosis of CPV.
The results were indicative of parvovirus, so the veterinarian admitted the GSD into in-patient treatment. This required 24-hour monitoring and intensive fluid therapy. Because parvovirus has such a high mortality rate, I stayed at the vet clinic overnight, sleeping on a cot in our waiting area. Every couple of hours, it was my job to get up and check on the dog to ensure that he didn’t kink the IV line and to administer his anti-vomiting medication. This intensive treatment lasted until the dog showed improvement, and luckily for this GSD, he survived. Not all dogs are this lucky. Prittie (2004) reported “mortality rates of 4-48% despite aggressive supportive care” (p. 167). A mortality rate of 48% would mean that nearly 5 out of 10 dogs would die from parvovirus even when treated aggressively.