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Dog Parvovirus: What You Need to Know

Dog Parvovirus: What You Need to Know

What is parvovirus in dogs and how do they contract it? Which symptoms should you watch for, and can it be treated? Our vets in Fremont answer these questions in today's post. 

What is Parvovirus in Dogs?

Also referred to as CPV or "parvo", canine parvovirus is one of the most serious viruses a dog can contract. Fortunately, it's a preventable condition that you can vaccinate your dog against. 

This infectious DNA virus was discovered in the 1960s and has quickly evolved to become a serious threat to the health of canines everywhere - mainly due to the fact that the virus is highly contagious. 

Parvovirus can also survive for a long time in an environment and is difficult to kill. Dogs that have been infected also shed parvovirus in large quantities. 

While a highly effective vaccine can protect dogs against this virus, the disease is unfortunately still very prevalent, especially in puppies and adolescent dogs. 

How do Dogs Get Parvovirus?

The extremely contagious parvovirus is not airborne. However, it does spread quickly and efficiently and is found on many surfaces. '

It's able to survive outdoors for months, if not a year and is resistant to many disinfectants. That said, it's vulnerable to diluted bleach and some specialized cleaners typically used in animal hospitals. 

Though parvovirus can be spread through contact with contaminated feces, it's not necessary for solid feces to be visible for the virus to be present. Dogs can interact with fecal material, then carry the virus on their fur or paws. 

It can also survive on people's hands or clothing, or in kennels or on surfaces. 

Unvaccinated dogs of any age can become infected, but parvovirus often affects puppies between the age of 6 weeks to 6 months. 

What are the Symptoms of Parvovirus in Dogs?

A dog infected with canine parvovirus will start to show symptoms within 3 to 7 days. 

Owners will often notice their infected puppy is acting lethargic and may have a reduced appetite in the early stages of the illness. If parvovirus is the culprit for your dog's symptoms, you may also see these signs:

  • Belly pain
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Puppies become severely ill as the virus progresses. They may have a high heart rate and hypothermia may set in due to the extent of infection and dehydration. They may also collapse. 

Dogs begin to suffer from severe vomiting and diarrhea as the stages of the virus take effect. 

What are the Stages of Parvovirus?

The stages of parvovirus mimic the stages of many viral infections. 

1. Infection 

Your puppy or adult dog becomes exposed to an infected dog's feces that's carrying viral particles. These particles can develop in the environment (on the ground or on a surface), people, the mother dog, or objects or clothing that come into contact with the infected dog's fecal material. 

2. Incubation 

An infected dog will not display symptoms during the 3 to 7-day incubation period, when the virus is attacking the body's most rapidly dividing cells. It will typically focus on the tonsils or throat and multiply before invading other systems throughout the body. 

Once it enters the bloodstream, the virus makes its way to the bone marrow and cells lining the wall of the small intestines. 

When small puppies become infected with parvo, the heart may also be vulnerable to damage including inflammation, arrhythmias and poor function. 

3. Illness 

The bone marrow becomes infected, the body's protective white blood cells decrease and the virus attacks the immune cells. 

This means the body's ability to protect itself is severely weakened and it will be more easy for the virus to invade the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where the worst damage happens. 

The GI tract will no longer be able to absorb nutrients, prevent bacteria from migrating to the gut or prevent fluid loss into the stool when the virus attacks the lining of the small intestine. 

This can lead to severe health issues, including lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration, fever and potentially sepsis. 

While parvovirus in dogs is not always fatal, those that die typically due so from dehydration or shock, along with the damage caused by intestinal bacteria that produce septic toxins that enter the bloodstream. 

4. Recovery

Every dog will go through the recovery process differently depending on the severity of the disease and the damage it's done to their system. Your pooch may have a long recovery process ahead of them. 

Dogs that do recover from parvovirus infection are typically ill for 5 to 10 days after symptoms begin. Puppies recovering from parvovirus will need a nutritious diet to help heal their intestines. 

Your veterinarian will likely recommend a bland, easily digestible, nutritionally balanced prescription diet that will be gentle on your young dog's recovering GI tract. 

How is Parvovirus Diagnosed in Dogs?

Any puppy or unvaccinated dog that has been vomiting or showing signs of diarrhea should be tested for parvovirus. This relatively quick and inexpensive test can be performed by testing the feces or taking a swab of the rectum. 

Your vet at Ace Animal Hospital will also likely recommend blood work, since some dogs may be suffering from anemia due to blood loss in the intestines or have extremely low blood sugar levels from the combination of lack or sugar reserves and serious illness in young patients. 

Since vomiting and diarrhea can potentially be attributed to vomiting and diarrhea, additional tests such as X-rays, additional fecal samples or ultrasounds may be required.

How is Parvovirus Treated?

Dogs with parvovirus will need to be closely monitored. Ideally, they should be hospitalized where they can receive the care and attention they require.

That said, many owners do not have the financial resources to pay for multiple days of hospitalization.

Outpatient therapy may be successful as long as the owner can administer medications and follow a rigorous schedule of daily check-ins with their vet to ensure their pooch is responding to treatment. 

The cornerstones of treatment for parvo are IV fluids and electrolyte management. Antibiotics can be prescribed to prevent secondary infections, along with medications to help relieve vomiting, pain and nausea. 

Dewormer should be provided since many puppies will also have intestinal parasites that can make diarrhea symptoms worse. IV supplementation will be needed if sugar levels are low. 

Nutrition is also an essential component of treatment. If a patient is not eating enough on their own, they may require a temporary feeding tube to be placed in their nose. It will go directly into the stomach or esophagus to ensure your dog gets the required nutrients. 

A plasma transfusion may be needed for severe cases to help replenish blood proteins and loss of clotting factors. 

What is the Prognosis for a Dog with Parvo?

While it's possible for a dog to survive parvo, prognosis will depend on size, age and how sick the dog is when owners first take them in to see their vet. This virus is very aggressive and has a very high mortality rate. Without early treatment, most patients will not survive.

Ensuring medical treatment is administered at the first onset of illness will increase your dog's likelihood of recovery. 

How Can I Prevent My Dog from Contracting Parvovirus?

There are three measures dog owners can take to prevent infection. These include:

  • Vaccination
  • Avoid high-risk areas (pet stores, dog parks, etc.) while dogs are unvaccinated or still a puppy 
  • Cleaning with appropriate disinfectants

Can a Dog Get Parvovirus Twice?

Dogs that have been infected with this virus and recovered are unlikely to contract parvovirus again. The immunity from the virus lasts for several years, protecting your dog from reinfection. 

While it's theoretically possible for a dog to get parvo twice, but such risks are very slim.

Pet Vaccinations Near Fremont 

Parvovirus is one of the core dog vaccines your dog will require, as it will protect them against infection. 

At Ace Animal Hospital, pet vaccinations typically start when a puppy is 6 to 8 weeks old. They should receive a booster every 2 to 4 weeks until they reach 16 to 20 weeks of ave. An annual booster should be administered the following year and generally every 3 years after that. 

Proper disinfection will also play an important role in preventing this highly contagious virus. If your dog is being treated with parvovirus, he should be isolated during active treatment and for up to 2 weeks after recovery. 

Most common household cleaners cannot kill parvovirus. Properly diluted bleach (1:30 ratio with water) is effective if left to soak for at least 10 minutes after all organic material (food, feces, etc.) has been removed. The virus can survive for months or years in an environment that does not receive direct sun exposure and is not properly disinfected. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your dog need their parvovirus vaccine? Contact Ace Animal Hospital to book an appointment for your canine companion's shot today.

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