When parvo strikes, it moves fast. Infected dogs may appear to be in perfect health one day and violently ill the next. Unless dogs are diagnosed and treated early, many die from this serious disease.
But first, let’s review the most common myths about canine parvovirus, and some facts about the disease:
PARVO MYTH 1: Adult dogs don’t get parvo.
TRUTH: It’s true that the likelihood of a serious parvo infection decreases as dogs age, and that most victims are puppies. But adult dogs can become seriously ill or die from parvo.
PARVO MYTH 2: I can protect my dogs from exposure to parvo by maintaining a clean environment and restricting their contact with other dogs.
TRUTH: The virus is everywhere, and it’s impossible to prevent parvo exposure.
PARVO MYTH 3: My dog is strong and healthy. His immune system will prevent him from getting sick.
TRUTH: Under the right conditions, any dog can be vulnerable to canine parvovirus disease.
Reactions to parvovirus vary widely. In a world in which parvovirus is literally everywhere – parvo kills some dogs and leaves others unscathed.
Do You Need to Vaccinate Your Dog for Parvovirus?
We want our dogs be healthy and to live forever. Veterinarians see parvovirus as an easily prevented, unnecessary illness, and vaccination as a simple, inexpensive component of basic care.
Deciding to not vaccinate your puppy or dog against parvovirus should never be the result of casual thought, laziness, or a reluctance to spend money at the vet’s office.
Statistically speaking, more unvaccinated dogs than vaccinated dogs contract parvovirus, so people who take this path are essentially accepting that risk.
Why is Parvovirus So Dangerous?
Parvoviruses infect birds and mammals (including humans), but until the 1970s, parvovirus did not infect domestic dogs or their wild cousins.
Infection takes place when a susceptible host inhales or ingests the virus, which attacks the first rapidly dividing group of cells it encounters. Typically, these cells are in the lymph nodes of the throat. Soon the virus spills into the bloodstream, through which it travels to bone marrow and intestinal cells. The incubation period between exposure and the manifestation of symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea is usually three to seven days.
When it attacks bone marrow, parvo damages the immune system and destroys white blood cells. More commonly, it attacks the intestines, causing copious diarrhea and debilitating nausea, which further weakens the dog’s system. Dogs who die of parvo typically do so because fluid loss and dehydration lead to shock, and/or because intestinal bacteria invade the rest of the body and release septic toxins.
Any dog who survives a parvovirus infection is believed to have lifelong immunity; serum antibody titers tend to stay high for prolonged periods after recovery from the virus.
Young puppies and adolescent dogs whose maternal antibodies no longer protect them but whose immune systems have not yet matured are at greatest risk of contracting parvo. Most parvo victims are less than one year old, but the disease can and does occasionally strike adults, too.
Some breeds are particularly susceptible to contracting parvovirus, including Alaskan Sled Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and American Staffordshire Terriers.
How Parvo Spreads to Dogs
Veterinary experts agree that virtually all of the world’s dogs have been exposed to canine parvovirus. The virus begins to “shed,” or be excreted by a dog, three to four days following his exposure to the virus, often before clinical signs of the infection have appeared. The virus is also shed in huge amounts from infected dogs in their feces for 7-10 days; a single ounce of fecal matter from a parvo-infected dog contains 35,000,000 units of the virus, and only 1,000 are needed to cause infection.
In addition, the virus can be carried on shoes, tires, people, animals (including insects and rodents), and many mobile surfaces, including wind and water. Because it is difficult to remove from the environment and because infected dogs shed the virus in such profusion, parvo has spread not only to every dog show, veterinary clinic, grooming salon, and obedience school, but every street, park, house, school, shopping mall, airplane, bus, and office in the world.
If conditions are right, the virus can survive for up to six months. Although parvo is destroyed by sunlight, steam, diluted chlorine bleach, and other disinfectants, sterile environments can be quickly reinfected.
Parvovirus Symptoms to Watch For
Here are the signs of parvo you should not ignore if you suspect your dog has been exposed. It is important to remember that most parvovirus deaths occur within 48 and 72 hours following a dog showing clinical signs.
– sudden loss of appetite
– extreme lethargy or depression
– diarrhea (severe and/or containing blood)
– a bloated, tender, or seemingly painful abdomen
– rapid heartbeat
– red gums and eyeballs
– low body temperature (hypothermia)
Canine Parvovirus Medical Treatment
Most veterinarians treat parvovirus with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. In addition, treatment may include balancing the blood sugar, intravenous electrolytes, intravenous nourishment, and an antiemetic injection to reduce nausea and vomiting. None of these treatments “cure” the disease or kill the virus; they are supportive therapies that help stabilize the dog long enough for his immune system to begin counteracting the virus.
While antibiotics have no effect on viruses, they are considered an important aspect of treatment, especially for puppies. The parvovirus causes the gastrointestinal mucosa, which usually serves as a protective barrier to infection, to slough away, leaving the puppy vulnerable to bacterial infections. Antibiotics protect the puppy from infection until his body’s own system of protection recovers.
Canine Parvovirus Recovery Rates
An estimated 80 percent of parvo-infected dogs treated at veterinary clinics recover.
Early detection is the key. Only if the dog’s guardian is alert to the early signs of illness and hustles him to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible. The sooner the dog receives supportive care, the better his odds of recovery.