Our top 3 post of all time was Parvovirus: What you need to know about this deadly disease. We revisit the topic in this blog. Bear with us, as this post is quite lengthy but it contains very important information. We’ve edited the original content for clarity and brevity.

PARVOVIRUSParvovirus is one of the deadliest diseases dogs might face. Puppies are the usual victims of parvovirus. It can also be a difficult disease to treat and manage in outpatient and inpatient veterinary medicine. 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.

For almost four decades, canine parvovirus has been a problem for dogs. Since then, three distinct strains now exist, including CPV-2c, a strain that cats can carry.

Parvovirus is highly contagious among dogs. It is ubiquitous and spreads easily. “The principal source, other than dogs, was faecal material on shoes and clothes,” (Carmichael, 2005, p. 305). This means humans are capable of carrying the virus into the environment of their companion animals. In clinical practice, it was required of us to use a bleach-water bath to disinfect our shoes upon leaving the quarantine area. This practice was necessary to minimize the spread of the virus by a human vector. Other best practices included washing all clothing, blankets, and towels that had been exposed to an infected animal. At PetCorps, we minimize the spread of disease by disinfecting our shoes and equipment every time we leave a yard.

The virus can persist in the environment for 5 to 7 months; however, the virus usually appears between July and September. With this in mind, if your goal is to minimize your pets’ exposure, you must keep your yard clean during the summer, although I recommend year round cleanup.

Infected animals shed parvovirus in their feces. Prittie (2004) reported that “Fecal shedding of virus is variable and short-lived (typically for less than 2 weeks following infection)” (p. 169). Nevertheless, dogs exposed to infected dog feces are at risk of contracting the virus.

Signs and Symptoms
The usual signs and symptoms of parvovirus infection include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • High fever in puppies
  • Subnormal temperature in senior dogs

Severe cases may reveal:

  • Coughing
  • Corneal swelling

Ultimately, parvovirus destroys the intestinal tract. The damaged tissue is unable to absorb water and is the main cause for bloody diarrhea. Diarrhea from a dog infected with parvovirus has a distinct smell: very sharp and pungent. This is probably one of the strongest clinical indicators of the virus, at least in my experience.

The SNAP Parvo Test of the VetScan Canine Parvovirus Rapid Test are diagnostic tools that provide a definitive diagnosis of parvovirus infection. Both tests take less than 10 minutes to produce a result from a fecal sample. False positives do happen on occasion, so blood work may be necessary to confirm a parvovirus diagnosis.

Other Risks
Parvovirus weakens the dog’s immune system, creating a situation where secondary bacterial infections are possible. When this happens, a dog’s chance of survival decreases greatly.

If you notice any of the signs or symptoms listed above, seek veterinary treatment immediately. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcome for your pet. Aggressive fluid therapy is essential. The fluids help to restore the lost volume resulting from vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, antibiotics may be necessary to control secondary bacterial infections. Veterinarians may also prescribe medicine to help control vomiting.

With regard to your companion animal’s diet, your veterinarian my impose restrictions to help the dog’s digestive system to heal. For some good recommendations on how to feed an animal with digestive system disorders, read Dr. Lew Olson’s Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs.

Shannon is one of our readers who works in a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. In a personal communication (2012) from Twitter, she contributed the following information about treatment:

Inpatient treatment being ideal, may be very expensive. Depending on the severity of the case up to a couple thousand dollars. Outpatient treatment for early cases is much more cost effective and the chances are good the earlier you catch it. But the worse the dog is, out patient treatment may not be an option, and I don’t think people realize how much it costs for pets to be hospitalized when they are seriously ill.

Vaccination may be one of the best ways to prevent your puppy from getting a parvovirus infection. The best time to vaccinate your puppy is after he or she is no longer nursing. Vaccinating a puppy who is nursing is ineffective because the puppy is supplied with antibodies from the colostrum in the mother’s milk. Also, you may want to check with your veterinarian on the vaccination schedule. New research suggests vaccinating your pets fewer times than we had accepted in the past. In fact, according to Dr. Jean Dodds, boostering has almost no effect on the immunity of the animal.

Parvovirus is a potentially fatal virus affecting dogs. We recommend that you take action to vaccinate your puppies as young as 6 weeks at least 3 times by the time they are four months old. We also recommend yearly vaccinations. To further reduce your dog’s risk, we recommend cleaning off your dog’s paws with a pet friendly cleaning wipe after a walk in the park or a walk around the block. We further recommend hiring a dog waste removal service to help you to manage the dog waste in your yard in order to reduce your pet and your family’s exposure to contaminants contained in dog waste.

Carmichael, L. E. (2005). An Annotated Historical Account of Canine Parvovirus. Journal Of Veterinary Medicine Series B, 52(7/8), 303-311. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0450.2005.00868.x

Prittie, J. (2004). Canine parvoviral enteritis: a review of diagnosis, management, and prevention. Journal Of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care, 14(3), 167-176. doi:10.1111/j.1534-6935.2004.04020.x

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