Parvovirus, or parvo, as it is referred to, is a very contagious and a potentially fatal disease in puppies or young dogs. It is estimated that parvovirus is fatal in 16-48% of cases. Parvovirus is actually everywhere. It is concentrated in the feces of infected animals. The virus enters through the mouth as the young dog or puppy cleans itself or eats food off the ground or floor. Parvovirus causes gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the intestines. The dog presents with diarrhea and vomiting leading to extreme fluid loss, shock, and possibly death. In addition, the barrier which normally separates digestive bacteria from the blood stream breaks down, causing wide spread infection and again, possibly death.
What dogs are most at risk for parvovirus?
* Puppies 6-20 weeks old are most susceptible. It takes some time for the vaccination to become fully protective.
* Unvaccinated dogs.
* Certain breeds are at an increased risk for parvovirus including Rottweilers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, and German Shepherds.
* Dogs under stress or which have other intestinal infections (including worms) or other health problems.
Parvovirus can be fatal. Consult your veterinarian if your dog, especially your puppy, has the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea (may be bloody)
- Lethargy or listlessness
- Loss of appetite
If parvovirus is the cause, early treatment is absolutely essential.
Diagnosis of parvovirus begins byt evaluating the dog’s age, vaccination history, symptoms, and completing a physical examination of the dog. This is followed by testing a fecal sample and complete blood count. Further blood tests and x-rays may also be indicated.
Treatment is mostly supportive and aimed at managing symptoms until the virus runs its course. This usually involves fluid therapy to combat dehydration, medications to control vomiting and protect the stomach, antibiotics for bacterial infections, and sometimes blood or plasma transfusions in very severe cases.
Vaccination is the best defense against parvovirus. Puppies need to be vaccinated as young as 6-8 weeks and repeated every 4 weeks until 4 months of age. The puppy will be vaccinated again at one year. After this, all dogs should be vaccinated every 3 years for parvovirus along with the core vaccinations.
Because the parvovirus is so contagious, can survive for several months, and is everywhere, we recommend that you keep your puppy out of public outdoor places until their vaccination series is complete at 4 months.