Perhaps you have heard about the dangers of parvovirus in dogs, but if you find yourself becoming a new puppy owner, we recommend reacquainting yourself with the risks, prevention, and treatment of this potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness. If you haven’t heard of parvovirus, this article will teach you everything you need to know. Parvovirus, in general, is a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus that normally affects non-vaccinated puppies ages 6 weeks to 20 weeks old, but can also affect older dogs. Parvovirus most commonly attacks the small intestine and bone marrow. In cases of young puppies, the virus may also attack the heart, inevitably causing inflammation, poor function, and arrhythmias.
The parvovirus wreaks havoc in the gastrointestinal tract, but not before beginning the attack in the lymph nodes, lymphocytes, and rapidly dividing cells within the bone marrow. Once the virus enters the bone marrow, the body’s ability to protect itself is weakened because young immune cells and protective white blood cells are diminished. This allows easier access for parvovirus to then target the gastrointestinal tract. Within the intestines, the virus attacks the epithelium, which is the lining of the intestines that helps absorb nutrients and provides protection against fluid loss and the bacterial infections from the gut to the rest of the body. The epithelium cells are rapidly dividing and short lived cells. The Parvovirus attacks the epithelium by stopping the epithelium cells from dividing, causing them to die off. As the existing cells die off, the epithelium loses its ability to absorb nutrients and protect the rest of the body from bacteria that live in the intestines. This quickly leads to severe diarrhea and nausea. As the epithelium further breaks down, it results in septic toxins entering the blood stream. If not treated, parvovirus can lead to death by dehydration and shock, as well as the nasty effects of septic toxins throughout the blood stream.
How is Parvovirus Transmitted?
The parvovirus can be transmitted by both direct and indirect transmission. Direct transmission occurs when your dog comes in direct contact with the virus by sniffing, licking, or eating infected feces. Indirect transmission happens by coming in contact with an object, person, or environment that has been contaminated. The virus can survive on clothing, leashes and other dog equipment, human skin, and in the environment. To make matters worse, the parvovirus is a very resilient virus. Indoors, the virus can survive at least two months. Outdoors, depending on temperature and sunlight exposure, the virus can live over one year! If that wasn’t bad enough, the virus is also resistant to most common cleaning chemicals.
Why Do Puppies Get Parvovirus?
Puppies are the most susceptible to getting parvovirus. Up to 6 weeks of age, puppies still have enough antibodies passed from their mother to fight off infection. But from 6 weeks to 6 months old, they are very vulnerable to the virus. This is why it is very important to get the three rounds of parvovirus vaccine shots at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, and 12 weeks of age. Another booster shot at 14-16 weeks is also highly recommended to boost immunity.
What Breeds are Most At-Risk of Getting Parvovirus?
Some breeds are more susceptible to developing parvovirus than other breeds. Breeds at a higher risk are the following:
English Springer Spaniels
American Staffordshire Terriers
Symptoms of Parvo in Dogs
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of parvovirus is very important. This is especially true with puppies because they can quickly become very sick in a short amount of time after becoming infected. Your dog may be experiencing the effects of parvovirus if she/he develops:
If you observe any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Due to how easy the parvovirus spreads, it is important to quickly quarantine any sick dog to prevent spreading to other dogs.
Canine Parvovirus Treatment
There is no direct cure for canine parvovirus, which is why early detection is important. When a dog is infected, the veterinarian will manage the symptoms and provide supportive care. Depending on how soon the infection is caught, the virus can be treated by supportive fluids, nutrients, and medication. In severe cases, IV treatments of fluids and nutrients, as well as antibiotics will be given to fight off bacterial infections brought on by the damaged intestine walls and weakened immune system. Survival rate when treated is 68 – 92 percent in puppies. If puppies survive through the first four days of treatment, they generally will make a complete recovery. Adult dogs have a higher survival rate, but it’s still important to start treatment as soon as symptoms begin.
Parvovirus is a completely preventable disease; dogs that receive the recommended vaccinations will be immune to the virus. It is also vital to ensure that the mother has been fully vaccinated prior to having a litter of puppies. The mother will then pass on antibodies to the puppies that will keep them safe until they are old enough to begin receiving their own vaccinations.
For puppies that have not been vaccinated, it is important not to let them near other dogs that are unvaccinated and to minimize exposure to areas that could have had other unvaccinated dogs. Please remember that the parvovirus can be transported on your clothing, so limiting your personal exposure to other dogs is also important until your puppies are vaccinated.