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Everything You Need to Know About Parvo in Dogs

Everything You Need to Know About Parvo in Dogs

What is parvovirus in dogs and how do they get it? Which symptoms should you look for? Can it be treated? Our Stockton vets answer these questions in today's post. 

What is canine parvovirus?

Commonly known as CPV or "parvo", canine parvovirus is one of the most serious viruses a dog can contract. Thankfully, it's an illness dog owners can prevent by ensuring their dog is up to date on this and all vaccinations.

This infectious DNA virus was discovered in the 1960s, this virus has rapidly evolved to become a serious threat to canine health.

This is mainly due to the fact that the virus is highly contagious, can live for a long time in the environment, and is difficult to kill. Infected dogs also shed parvovirus in large quantities. 

While dogs can be protected against the virus with a highly effective vaccine, the disease is unfortunately still very prevalent, particularly in puppies and adolescent dogs. 

How do dogs get parvovirus?

While the extremely contagious parvovirus is not airborne, it does spread quickly and efficiently and is found on many surfaces. It can survive outdoors for months, if not a year and is resistant to many disinfectants. That said, it is vulnerable to diluted bleach and some specialized cleaners usually used in veterinary hospitals.  

Though it can be spread through contact with contaminated feces, solid feces do not have to be visible for the virus to be present. Dogs can come into contact with fecal material, then carry the virus on their paws or fur.

It can also live on peoples' hands or clothing, or on surfaces in kennels. 

Though unvaccinated dogs of any age can become infected, parvovirus commonly affects puppies between the age of 6 weeks to 6 months. 

Can people get parvovirus?

Since parvovirus is specific to species, humans have their own version of the virus, meaning parvovirus can't be passed between dogs and people. 

However, if you come into contact with an infected dog you'll still need to be very careful about wearing personal protective equipment. While you may not contract parvo, you could inadvertently spread the virus to another dog if it gets on your hands or clothes. 

What are symptoms of parvovirus in dogs?

Within 3 to 7 days of infection, a dog infected with canine parvovirus will begin to show symptoms. 

Infected puppies will often be lethargic and may not want to eat in the early stages. You may also notice:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Belly pain
  • Decreased appetite

As the virus progresses, puppies can become severely sick. Their heart rate may be high and they may get hypothermia due to the extent of infection and dehydration. They may also collapse. 

Dogs start to suffer from severe vomiting and diarrhea as the virus progresses. 

What are the stages of parvovirus?

The stages of parvovirus are similar to the stages of most viral infections. 

1. Infection

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

2. Incubation

During the 3 to 7-day intubation period, an infected dog will not display symptoms. Meantime, the virus is honing in on the body's most rapidly dividing cells. It typically starts attacking the tonsils or the throat and multiplies before invading other systems in the body. 

Once it's made its way to the bloodstream, the virus will move on to the bone marrow and cells lining the wall of the small intestines. 

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

3. Illness

The body experiences a drop in protective white blood cells when the bone marrow becomes infected and the virus attacks the immune cells. 

This means the body's ability to protect itself is weakened and the virus can more easily invade the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where the worst damage occurs. 

When the virus attacks the lining of the small intestine, the GI tract can no longer absorb nutrients, prevent bacteria from migrating to the gut or prevent fluid loss into the stool. 

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

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

4. Recovery

Recovery from parvovirus will look different for every dog. Depending on the severity of the disease and the damage caused, full recovery may take a significant length of time. 

Dogs that do recover from infection are typically sick for 5 to 10 days after symptoms start. For puppies with parvovirus, a nutritious diet will play an integral role in helping to heal their intestines. 

Your vet will likely recommend a bland, easily digestible, nutritionally balanced prescription diet that will be gentle on your pup'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 American Veterinary 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. Without 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

Pet Vaccinations near Stockton 

Parvovirus is one of the core pet vaccinations your dog will need, as it will protect them against infection.

At American Veterinary Hospital, dog vaccinations typically start when a puppy is 6 to 8 weeks old, followed by a booster every 2-4 weeks until they reach 16-20 weeks of age. An annual booster should be administered the following year and generally every 3 years after that. 

Proper disinfection is also crucial to preventing this highly contagious virus. Dogs with parvovirus should be isolated during treatment and for up to 2 weeks after recovery. 

Parvovirus cannot be killed with most common household cleaners. 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.

Is your puppy or dog due for vaccinations? Contact American Veterinary Hospital to schedule an appointment with our Stockton vets.

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