Canine Parvovirus (CPV), often referred to as “Parvo,” is a highly contagious and potentially fatal virus that affects the intestinal tract of dogs. Not only does Parvo have a high death rate if left untreated, it can survive in the environment for months or even years under the right conditions.
While any dog may develop parvo, the most likely affects dogs with less robust immune systems, including puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Puppies are particularly prone to parvo infection between the time they are immune to breast milk and when they are fully vaccinated at 16 weeks of age. Dogs with pre-existing autoimmune deficiencies are also at a higher risk.
How is Parvo transmitted?
The parvovirus enters the body through contact with the mucous membranes and then spreads to the lymphatic system and bloodstream. An infected dog excretes the parvovirus in the feces, so transmission of parvo can occur if other dogs come into direct contact (via the nose or mouth) or indirectly (by touching contaminated objects) with this feces.
The virus can also be spread on multiple surfaces, including fur, food bowls, toys, kennels, and bedding, and dirt and grass contaminated by infected feces. A dog with parvo can begin shedding the virus as early as four days after exposure, often before symptoms become manifest and before they are known to be infected.
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Signs and Symptoms of Parvo
Parvo infection decreases the gastrointestinal tract’s ability to absorb vital nutrients and water. This can lead to dangerous dehydration and malnutrition. Common signs and symptoms of parvo include:
- Diarrhea, often bloody
- Hypothermia (below average temperature)
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bloated and / or painful stomach
If you observe any of these signs or symptoms in your dog, it is important that the dog is seen by your veterinarian as soon as possible, as most deaths from parvo occur within 48 to 72 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Diagnosing and treating parvo in dogs
A veterinarian diagnoses Parvo by recording the dog’s medical history, noting the dog’s clinical symptoms, and performing an exam. Stool and blood samples are also required. The diagnosis is then confirmed by laboratory testing of the samples. It is important to start treatment as soon as a dog has been diagnosed. With proper veterinary care, the survival rate of dogs infected with parvo can be up to 90 percent, but without treatment, the mortality rate is over 80 percent.
Since there are no drugs available that can kill the parvovirus once a dog is infected, treatment consists of hospitalization and supportive care, including:
- Intravenous fluids to combat dehydration and replenish electrolytes
- Nausea medication
- Antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infection
- Temperature control to prevent hypothermia
There is currently no cure for parvo, but studies of antibody therapies targeting the virus are underway with promising results. One such product, which has been tested by KindredBio, could be approved in early 2021.
Prevention is the key
The best way to keep dogs safe is to make sure they are up to date on their vaccines. Puppies should receive the Parvo vaccine (DHLPP) from six to eight weeks of age and then repeat every three weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks old. After that, booster vaccines are given every year.
Other Important Points: Before puppies are fully vaccinated, they should be kept away from areas that may be contaminated with parvo, such as: B. dog parks, pet shops and snow groomers. Do not allow them to play with other dogs unless those dogs have been fully vaccinated.
Indoor areas where dogs congregate should be completely disinfected with diluted bleach or other commercially available products such as Rescue or Trifectant. Feces should be removed both indoors and outdoors. It’s important to note that even after dogs have recovered from parvo, they can be contagious for up to two weeks. So it’s best to keep them away from other dogs until this time is up.
Good hygiene and preventative measures go a long way towards ensuring that your canine companion stays healthy and safe.