An in-depth health article on Paravirus, it’s causes, treatments and negative health effects.

What is Parvovirus?

Canine Parvovirus (commonly known as Parvo or CPV) is a viral illness that most commonly affects puppies. Unvaccinated adult dogs are also at risk of contracting the disease. Canine Parvovirus is extremely dangerous and is likely to prove fatal without treatment. While there are no accurate statistics about the number of dogs that survive the disease, without veterinary care it is likely that most infected dogs will perish. Veterinary statistics say that 85% of the dogs affected are under 1 year of age and the most severe cases are found in dogs less than 12 weeks old.

When a puppy or dog is infected with the virus it begins to replicate within the body and spreads via the bloodstream. It then attacks dividing cells in the dog’s body causing major damage; cells contained within the bone marrow and lining of the small intestine are prime targets.

How is Parvo Transmitted?

Parvo can be transmitted in a number of ways:

  • Direct contact with an infected dog
  • Contact with infected feces
  • Contact with objects or areas that have been exposed to an infected dog (a yard, bowl, kennel, clothing, the bottoms of shoes, etc)

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Severe and/or Bloody/Dark diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Low white blood cell count

These symptoms are most common in puppy-hood cases of Parvo. Infected adult dogs often experience very few symptoms even though they are ill (and can spread the disease).

How Is Canine Parvovirus Diagnosed?

If your dog is believed to have Parvovirus, your Veterinarian will evaluate his or her physical condition and perform a variety of diagnostic tests. ELISA testing (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay antigen), or a blood test that detects the disease, will be run. Running a CBC (complete blood count) will allow your Vet to know the severity of the infection.

How Is Parvovirus Treated?

While there is no specific treatment known that can eliminate the virus, supportive care is vital in helping a dog survive Parvo.

  • Isolation – Veterinary hospitals should all be equipped with an isolation unit where contagious animals are treated. A dog or puppy with Parvovirus will remain there for the extent of their treatment.
  • Replacement Of Lost Fluids – When a dog is infected with Parvo, the amounts of fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea can cause moderate to severe dehydration. Electrolyte solutions with added potassium are given either orally (in mild cases) or more commonly through an IV line.
  • Control Of Vomiting – Medications given through the IV line to control vomiting are sometimes administered.
  • Antibiotics – Antibiotics might be administered to aid in combating secondary infections.

How Should I Care For My Dog After He Recovers From Parvo?

  • Even if a dog has recovered from Parvo the feces can continue to spread the virus for up to 3 weeks. This can put other dogs at risk of infection. Restrict interaction for a month once your dog comes home.
  • Areas that have been exposed to a dog with Parvovirus should be cleaned thoroughly with a mixture of 1 part bleach to 30 parts water or with cleaning products specifically labeled for use against the disease. Remember to disinfect the bottom of all shoes, the dog’s toys, bedding and bowls.
  • It can take between 7 months and a year before the virus is eliminated from the soil in your yard. Keep in mind that anytime the ground is frozen does not count in this time period as the cold temperatures keep the virus alive.
  • Remember that your dog has suffered some major intestinal trauma. He may have loose stool for a while. If he is acting lethargic, however, call your vet right away.

How Can I Prevent Parvovirus?

When a dog recovers from CPV, he is immune to the disease for an amount of time. However, the length of this immunity varies depending on which Veterinary professional you talk to. Some believe it is around 20 months while others say that the dog is immune for the rest of their life.

Vaccination is the most sure-fire way to prevent your dog from being infected with CPV. The vaccine against the disease is generally given in combination with other vaccines (DAP, DHLPP, DHAPP). While Veterinarians vary when it comes to vaccine protocol, it is generally suggested that puppies receive their first series at 6-8 weeks of age and then are revaccinated every 3 weeks until they reach 16-20 weeks of age. A booster is then given a year later and after that once every 1-3 years.

So why is it that some vaccinated puppies or even entire litters still contract Parvo? When a vaccine is given it spurs a response from the dog’s immune system that protects the dog from whatever disease you are vaccinating against. However when puppies are born and nurse from their mother, they take in maternal antibodies. So if she has been thoroughly vaccinated for Parvo, the pups are normally safe from contracting the disease for an amount of time. Yet high levels of maternal antibodies can interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines, which is why puppies are boostered repeatedly. The multiple rounds of vaccinations help insure that your dog is protected. There are some cases where the mother’s antibodies wane before the next vaccine is given – in those cases a puppy that is exposed to Parvo is still at risk.

One of the most common ways that dogs contract Parvovirus is well-meaning owners who are excited about a new puppy take the dog out to public, dog-friendly locations. Pet stores, dog parks or any other place that dogs frequent can be a breeding ground for disease. Your unvaccinated puppy should not be in contact with other dogs until he has had his vaccines!

Canine Parvovirus is a very serious illness, but with knowledge and preventive care you can work to keep your dog safe from this disease.

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