Parvo is a canine disease also known as parvovirus. It is a word that is feared by many dog owners as it is incredibly contagious and can be deadly if left untreated.
The survival rate of the disease is 68-92% when treated by a veterinarian. Conversely, if left untreated around 85% of dogs will die due to dehydration.
It often takes at least a week for your dog to recover. The virus is incredibly resistant to heat and detergents. This means that traces of it can remain for as long as a year after a dog has been infected.
What is parvo?
It is classified by the Merck Veterinary Manual as a stomach and small intestine disease. It acts inside the small intestine to destroy your dog’s cells.
This means that the gut barrier is disrupted and this has a knock-on effect on nutrient absorption. This can lead to your dog becoming malnourished and potentially very ill.
In puppies, parvo can also cause harm to lymphopoietic tissue, bone marrow, and their hearts.
What are the symptoms of parvovirus?
The symptoms of parvo are fairly obvious to notice, particularly in puppies. Parvovirus presents as a series of serious health issues. These include diarrhea containing blood, vomiting, and a fever.
Other symptoms are lethargy, weight loss, a loss of appetite, and dehydration. Your dog may also appear weak or seem depressed as a result of the virus.
If you believe your dog has parvovirus, you should immediately contact a veterinarian. It is wise to alert them on the phone if you suspect a case of parvovirus. This will allow the staff time to make suitable arrangements to ensure that other dogs in the surgery do not become affected too.
If left untreated, parvovirus can lead to electrolyte imbalances of sodium and potassium. It can also cause severe dehydration, malnourishment, and even septicemia. This is a bloodstream infection that is very fatal.
Which dogs are most susceptible to parvovirus?
Puppies in the age range of 6 weeks to 6 months are the most at risk from this disease. Puppies younger than this are protected with antibodies directly from their mother. They get these through the first milk, known as colostrum.
There are 3 rounds of shots that a puppy must get to protect them against parvovirus. These are given at 6, 8, and 12 weeks and until your puppy has received all 3 they are still at risk.
During this period you should take great care to protect your puppy. A booster dose is then given between 14 and 16 weeks of age. This is the final stage in developing an immunity to the disease.
It is recommended by veterinarians that dogs should have yearly booster vaccinations against parvo to prevent them from developing the disease.
There are also some breeds that are naturally more susceptible to developing parvovirus. These include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and English Springer Spaniels.
How is parvovirus transmitted?
The most common way that canine parvovirus is transmitted via direct contact with an infected dog. It can also be transmitted indirectly.
This is done through the sniffing, consumption, or even licking of the feces of an infected dog. It can also be transmitted to your dog if they share a food or water bowl, a collar, or a leash with an infected dog.
It can be indirectly transmitted via humans. If a human that has had exposure to an infected dog then touches your dog it can be spread this way. The same principle applies to the clothing of humans who have come into contact with a parvovirus positive dog.
How is parvovirus treated?
Your veterinarian will perform blood tests on your dog to check their white blood cell counts. They may also do a test known as an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay).
This looks for antibodies, hormones, proteins, and peptides in your dog’s feces. This will show whether your dog has parvovirus antibodies, a good indication of whether parvo is the cause of their ill health.
There is no cure as of yet for parvovirus. The treatment focuses on supportive care during the period of ill health. They will give your puppy supplemental nutrition and fluids to ensure they do not become malnourished or dehydrated from the vomiting and diarrhea.
Your veterinarian may also supply your dog with anti-inflammatory drugs to help treat and reduce the risk of septicemia. As well as this, they are likely to supply your dog with antispasmodic drugs to help control the vomiting and diarrhea.
The disease also weakens your dog’s immune system. This makes them more susceptible to secondary infections, which is where the real danger lies.
Their white blood cell count will be lowered, meaning that they are less able to fight off other infections. As a result of this, many vets are likely to give your dog a course of antibiotic medications to help keep them safe.
Can dogs get parvo more than once?
As a general rule, no they can’t. Similar to polio in humans, once a dog has had parvovirus they develop a natural immunity to it which will last for many years. They will have a long-lasting weakened immune system following the infection, which can cause other serious issues.
The virus will remain detectable in the feces of your dog for around 6 weeks once they have recovered from the disease. They should remain on your property during this time and should not be allowed to interact with other dogs.
For at least a year post-infection there will be live virus particles present in your residence. We do not recommend bringing any unvaccinated dogs onto your property for a minimum of 2-3 years once your dog has had the disease.
If your dog has had parvo, the humans in the household should not pet other dogs, particularly unvaccinated ones, for at least 6 weeks post-recovery.
There is a slim chance your dog could catch a slightly mutated strain of parvovirus again.