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If you have a dog, you’ve probably heard of the dreaded Parvovirus, but don’t know much about it. Let me give you the run-down.

What is it?  “Parvo” is a highly contagious viral disease of dogs that attacks the intestines, heart, and white blood cells.

How is Parvovirus spread?  Parvo is spread through direct contact with other dogs and dog feces. However, other animals and people can carry the virus on themselves (through contact with feces) and transmit it to dogs.

What are the signs of Parvovirus? 

  • Bloody diarrhea, often with a distinctive foul odor
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Which dogs are most at risk?

  • Unvaccinated dogs
  • Puppies between weaning and 6 months old
  • Certain breeds, such as Rottweilers, Dobermans, English Springer Spaniels, pit bull terriers, and black Labrador retrievers
  • Dogs living in high-density housing, such as boarding or breeding kennels, animal shelters, and pet stores
  • Dogs that visit dog parks

What is the the treatment?  After a special fecal test is used to confirm a positive diagnosis of Parvo, the pet will be hospitalized in an isolation ward (to protect other patients from exposure.) Since viruses cannot be killed through the use of antibiotics, the pet will receive supportive therapy, aimed at reducing the incidents of vomiting and diarrhea, and replenishing fluids and nutrients.

In many cases, pups with Parvo also have parasites (such as Roundworms or Hookworms), which can worsen the pet’s condition. In those cases, treatment will include worming.

Antibiotics may also be given to prevent the onset of opportunistic bacterial infections.

What are the odds of survival?  Dogs diagnosed with Parvo have the best chance of survival with immediate and intensive care. Due to the life-threatening nature of the disease, it cannot be adequately treated in a home environment.

Dogs that survive the first 3 to 4 days of illness have a good chance of recovery.

Pups less than 4 months old are at highest risk for severe illness. Less common these days is sudden death due to inflammation of the heart (myocarditis.)

It is important to note that even with appropriate treatment, Parvovirus can cause death, especially in young dogs. No veterinarian can guarantee a positive outcome.

Dogs that recover from a bout of Parvo may have permanent damage to their intestines and possibly the heart.

How can I protect my dog from Parvovirus?  Make sure your pet receives its annual Parvo vaccine (often contained within the distemper-combo shot.)

Because not every pet will develop the proper immunity to disease after vaccination, be cautious about letting your dog around other pets. 

Do not let your dog sniff or come in contact with other dogs’ droppings, and always dispose of your pet’s waste.

Pay attention to bulletins warning about Parvo outbreaks in city dog parks.

If possible, keep dogs under 3 months of age away from other dogs altogether.

What if my dog has been infected already?  Assuming your pet is in treatment at a hospital or has unfortunately passed away, now is the time to disinfect the home environment. 

Parvovirus can live outside the host animal for many months. In fact, Dr. Miele typically recommends to refrain from bringing new animals into the house for a period of at least 6 months.

To disinfect the home, mix 1 part bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite) to 30 parts water and thoroughly clean the areas where the pet lived. Be aware that the bleach solution may alter or damage certain materials.

Discard food and water bowls, toys, collars and leashes. 

If the pet is deceased, arrange for cremation. Do not bury the pet in your yard.

Questions? Call 757-583-2619.

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Resources for this article:

What you should know about Canine Parvovirus Infection, an AVMA publication.

The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult, Canine and Feline, Larry P. Tilley, DVM and Francis W. K. Smith, Jr., DVM

Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice, Stephen J. Birchard, DVM and Robert J. Sherding, DVM

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This article was originally posted on August 8, 2012.

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