What is parvovirus?
Parvovirus, also known as parvo, is the most common virus to infect dogs. It is most often found in the intestines of puppies, but it may be found in other organs and in dogs of all ages. In some instances, the virus can attack the heart muscle and cause sudden death. Also, left treated, the severe dehydration associated with parvovirus can be deadly. For unknown reasons, the parvovirus is more commonly found in black and tan breeds such as German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers. However, the virus can impact any dog.
There is a vaccine to prevent against this disease. The vaccine is typically given in three installments with the first
installment given at six weeks of age, the second at nine weeks of age
and the third at 12 weeks of age. Then, depending on the type of vaccine used, your dog will be given a yearly booster or a booster every three years.
What will parvovirus look like in my dog?
Symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, fever and bloody diarrhea which can lead to life-threatening dehydration. The virus can also destroy the inside lining of your dog's intestines. The destruction of the intestinal lining can allow bacteria to leak into your dog's blood stream which may cause sepsis (essentially toxic poisoning) of other organs.
How does my dog get parvovirus?
Infection with the parvovirus is generally thought to be traceable to your dog licking an infected dog’s feces or a surface that has come into contact with an already infected dog’s feces – just one lick is enough to infect your dog. This route of transmission presents two problems. First, a dog with parvo will generally begin to exhibit symptoms approximately 7 days after infection, but will begin to shed the virus in his feces after only about 3 days. This means that even a cautious dog owner of an infected dog can inadvertently enable spreading the virus to other dogs. Second, the cells of parvovirus are extremely hardy and extremely transmissible. The virus can survive on any surface, indoors or outdoors, for months. While the virus is specific to dogs meaning that humans, cats and other animals cannot develop this disease, humans, other animals and insects help spread it. In fact, your shoes, hands, and clothing are all perfect vehicles for transmitting the virus from one area to another. It is also impossible to kill the virus by using most household cleaners. The only way to destroy the cells is to flood the contaminated area with a solution of chlorine bleach and water. The recommended ratio is 1 ounce of chlorine bleach for each quart of water.
Once your dog has licked a surface that has come into contact with the parvovirus, the virus enters your dog’s body and looks for a new home. It will generally begin to live in the throat’s lymph node where it will multiply and enter your dog’s bloodstream before spreading to the bone marrow and intestines. Once in your dog’s bone marrow, the virus will destroy the healthy new immune system cells that the bone marrow helps your dog’s body to produce. The destruction of these new immune system cells weakens your dog’s immune system and allows the virus to further devastate your dog. Once in the intestines, the virus interferes with a vital component of your dog’s intestines called the villi. Villi are tiny hair-like protrusions that line the inside of the intestines and maximize the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients and fluids. In a healthy dog, the villi are constantly refreshed with new cells to keep them vital. The parvovirus, however, attacks the mechanism within the intestines that allows the villi to produce new cells. As a result, the villi become unable to function properly causing the diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and loss of appetite associated with parvo. As the virus continues its assault on the intestines it can destroy the intestinal lining allowing bacteria from the stomach to spread throughout the body and infect other organs including the heart. When parvo ends up being fatal it is because either the diarrhea and vomiting have caused such nutrient and fluid loss that your dog’s body shuts down, or because your dog’s intestinal lining has been destroyed by the virus and the bacteria has led to sepsis (essentially toxic poisoning) of other organs.
How is parvovirus diagnosed?
There is a specific parvo test that identifies antibodies to the virus found in your dog's feces. Although the evaluation can be done using a fresh stool sample, a more accurate method is obtained if your vet uses feces still in your dog's rectum. To collect a sample from inside your dog's rectum, your vet will insert a small cotton swab into your dog's rear end.
How is parvovirus treated?
There is no cure for parvovirus. Treatment is based upon addressing the symptoms and providing supportive care. Most dogs will be hospitalized for intravenous fluid replacement and administering medications such as antibiotics as well as stomach and intestinal protectants. Prescription dog foods that can be easily digested are also important during the recovery period.
How is parvovirus prevented?
A very young puppy will receive parvovirus antibodies from the mother if the mother has been vaccinated. The antibodies will remain in the puppy for several weeks and will prevent infection. Then, your vet will begin to administer a vaccine designed to combat the parvovirus infection. The vaccine is typically given in three installments with the first installment given at six weeks of age, the second at nine weeks of age and the third at 12 weeks of age. Thus, your dog should be kept away from other dogs and other possible sources of infection until 2 weeks after the final vaccination. Then, depending on the type of vaccine used, your dog will be given a yearly booster or a booster every three years. Proper cleaning of potentially contaminated surfaces along the prompt removal of contaminated stools will help stop the spread of this virus.
Can I get parvovirus from my dog?
No, you cannot contract parvovirus from your dog. The virus is specific to dogs meaning that humans, cats and other
animals cannot develop this disease.