What is Parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus (or parvo) is a viral disease in dogs. It attacks cells in the dog’s body resulting in a host of unpleasant symptoms, and it can be life-threatening.
The virus also attacks the intestinal tract, and the mortality rate can reach 91% in untreated cases.
Is Parvo Contagious?
Parvovirus is highly contagious.
The virus is typically transmitted between dogs through contact with an infected dog’s feces, but it can also be transmitted to other mammals, such as cats, wolves, guinea pigs, and humans.
What Causes Parvo in Dogs?
Parvo is caused through contact with the infection itself, usually through an infected animal’s stool. Parvo is most common in stray unvaccinated dogs, especially those living in unsanitary urban areas.
What Are The Symptoms?
Once the infection enters the body, it typically takes between three days and a week for symptoms to arise. The infection moves quickly, attacking the intestinal tract and cells throughout the body.
Here are some of the main symptoms of parvovirus:
- Lethargy (this is typically the first symptom to arise)
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea (potentially containing blood)
- Weakened immune system through white blood cell deterioration
- Foul odor
As a result, parvo can lead to:
- Dehydration from excessive diarrhea and vomiting. This can become life-threatening.
- The intestinal lining deteriorates. This causes blood and protein to leak into the intestines, leading to anemia and protein loss. Endotoxemia may also occur as a result of endotoxins entering the bloodstream.
- Shock and potentially death.
Types of Parvovirus
Parvo comes in two forms:
The intestinal form is most common. After exposure, the virus enters the lymphoid tissue within the throat and begins to multiply. It moves into the bloodstream and attacks cells in the lymph nodes, intestinal crypts, and bone marrow.
The cardiac form affects puppies. They either get infected while in the uterus or soon after being born. The virus attacks the heart, often killing the puppy suddenly. Thankfully, this form is much less common, as vaccination use is widespread in breeding dogs.
How Do You Diagnose Parvo?
Parvo can be tough to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to many other diseases and illnesses, at least in the early stages of the infection.
Diagnosis is typically made using an Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay test, or ELISA. The test only takes about 15 minutes, and is conducted by a veterinarian testing for the virus in the dog’s feces. However, the test is not always definitive. It typically needs a relatively large amount of virus in the feces to detect it, so additional testing may be needed.
Which Dog Breeds Are At a Higher Risk?
Certain dogs are at a higher risk of contracting parvovirus.
Any young dogs, especially puppies, that aren’t vaccinated are at a greater risk of transmission. Older dogs usually have stronger immune systems to handle exposure, and they are usually vaccinated against the virus.
Domestic breeds more prone to contracting parvo include:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Doberman Pinschers
- American Staffordshire Terriers
- German Shepherds
- Pit bull Terriers
How to Treat Parvovirus
Parvo must be treated in a veterinary hospital. The symptoms are so severe, and the risk of death is so high, that hospitalization is required – usually for five to seven days.
There is no drug on the market that can kill the virus outright (yet), so treatment involves supporting the immune system as much as possible and treating symptoms to give the dog’s body the best chance possible to fight the infection. This is done in a number of ways:
- Intravenous (IV) treatment is used to replenish fluids and combat dehydration
- Anti-nausea injections
- Drugs to help control vomiting
- Analgesic medications to help with intestinal discomfort
Blood plasma transfusions with a dog that has survived parvo can also help the treatment process and potentially make the dog immune.
Are There Home Treatments?
How to Prevent Parvo
The best way to prevent your dog from getting parvo is by vaccination and periodically making sure their vaccinations are up to date.
It is typically recommended that puppies be vaccinated in the first six to eight weeks after being born. Vaccination should include the parvovirus vaccine, along with vaccines for distemper, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and hepatitis (sometimes called a 5-in-1).
Booster shots are also given every four weeks until the dog is at least 16 weeks old.
For older dogs, they should receive at least one immunization shot, if they haven’t already, to help protect them.
Secondly, since parvo can live on surfaces for an extended period of time, if a dog in your home has been diagnosed with parvo it’s important to take preventative measures there as well.
Many disinfectants have no affect on killing parvo. A solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water is usually recommended. Use this solution to disinfect any non-food and non-organic surfaces your dog may have come into contact with. If you choose not to disinfect something, throw it away. Be careful not to come into direct contact with the object yourself.
How to Tell Parvo Apart from Other Ailments
The only way to really tell parvo apart from similar ailments (like parasitic issues) is to get a formal lab test from your veterinarian.
This will help you determine exactly what the cause of their symptoms is and the best route to treat it.
To Wrap It Up
Parvovirus is a nasty disease that can be life-threatening to your dog. If your pup is experiencing similar symptoms and you believe he or she might have parvo, take them to the vet immediately.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below!
- Canine Parvovirus – Merck Veterinary Journal