Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious, hard to destroy, and dangerous virus affecting the gastrointestinal system. With no specific drug to kill the virus, infected dogs become very sick and often die from the virus. Parvovirus can affect any dog, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are most at risk.
How Parvovirus Spreads
One of the things that makes parvovirus so dangerous is that it is extremely contagious. An infected dog begins shedding the virus in its feces days before they show any signs of sickness. Recovering dogs can shed the virus up to 10 days after signs disappear. That means your puppy could be exposed to a dog that’s not currently showing any signs of sickness, and you’d have no way of knowing.
It spreads when your puppy comes in direct contact with an infected dog or with contaminated feces. Even sniffing contaminated feces could expose your puppy. Indirect contact is also a concern. Parvovirus can live on surfaces like kennels, leashes, clothing, and bowls. It can even spread from clothing or hands of humans who have been around an infected dog or the hair or feet of dogs that have been in contaminated areas.
Parvovirus is also hard to destroy. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying. That means it can live in the environment for a long time. Indoors, the virus can live for a month or more. Outdoors, it can live even longer – even up to a year in the right conditions. That means it’s very important to think about the areas where you take your puppy.
Signs of Parvovirus
The onset of parvovirus starts with a variety of signs that can present very similar to other gastrointestinal issues. Your pet may experience some of these signs:
- Abdominal pain/bloating
- Fever or low body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Severe, often bloody, diarrhea
If you think your puppy may have parvo, you should contact your veterinarian right away. The earlier treatment begins, the better your puppy’s chances are for survival. Be sure to share your suspicions so that appropriate precautions can be taken by the care team to isolate your dog and ensure other pets are not infected.
Veterinarians diagnose parvovirus by evaluating signs and doing lab tests. The most common form of testing is an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test that uses a fecal swab to test for the virus. The test provides results in less than 15 minutes and is fairly accurate. It can occasionally produce a false positive or negative, so sometimes additional testing is used for the diagnosis. Other testing can include a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) or complete blood count evaluation.
Early treatment is imperative, but with no drug to combat the virus, treatments can be intensive and are often expensive. Treatment usually consists of intensive care to combat dehydration and prevent secondary infections. Your dog may need a hospital stay to receive IV fluids to replace nutrients that are being lost from vomiting and diarrhea. Treatment may also include blood transfusions or antibiotics if secondary infections are present. There are also medications that can help control nausea and diarrhea that may be useful.
According to the AVMA, survival rates for puppies treated properly by veterinarians can near 90%. Most puppies that survive the first three to four days have a good chance to make a complete recovery. Recovery time is different for each dog based on the severity of the case, but it would typically take about a week. Unfortunately, treatment is not always successful. Untreated, parvovirus can cause rapid dehydration, damage to the intestines, and can lead to death in a matter of days.
Preventing Parvovirus is Key
The best thing you can do for your pup is prevent it! Being proactive is crucial to preventing this disease.
Prevention through proper vaccination is key. The first shot is recommended at 6-8 weeks, and your puppy will receive a series of shots every three to four weeks until they reach 16 weeks. Your dog should get a booster shot a year later.
You’ll want to ensure your adult dogs’ vaccinations are up to date as well. Even though younger dogs are more at risk, it is best to keep your dog vaccinated. It protects their health and helps prevent virus spread.
Use caution when socializing your puppy. This is especially important if your puppy is not fully vaccinated yet.
- Avoid contact with another dog’s fecal waste or waste from wildlife as certain species such as coyotes can carry the virus.
- Confirm that pet providers and services practice good hygiene and cleaning procedures. That includes breeders, shelters, pet stores, groomers, and dog trainers.
- Stay away from crowded areas where a lot of dogs may gather such as dog parks, doggie day cares, or boarding facilities.
- Steer clear of sick or unvaccinated dogs.
Picking a Healthy Puppy
The best way to prevent purchasing a sick puppy is to rescue from a humane society or purchase from a carefully researched, reputable breeder. Here are some other helpful tips when thinking about getting a dog:
- Avoid buying dogs from online vendors. Owners should be able to meet the puppy’s parents and see where they were raised. Responsible breeders and reputable rescues will encourage visits and questions, share veterinary records for the puppy and their parents, provide clean and spacious housing, and breed sparingly.
- Ensure puppies are vaccinated by a veterinarian and make sure they receive the entire series of puppy vaccines before exposing them to unvaccinated dogs or high-risk environments.
- Wait until puppies are at least 8 weeks old before taking them home and have a veterinarian examine them within one week of bringing them home. A veterinarian can give further guidance on ways to safely socialize puppies who are not fully vaccinated.
Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48 to 72 hours of clinical signs, so it’s important to act quickly if you are noticing signs. Owners should contact their family veterinarian or bring their pet to the nearest MedVet. The most important thing you can do to protect your puppy is ensure they are vaccinated. Contact your family veterinarian to make sure your pup is up to date and protected from this dangerous disease.