Parvo is a highly infectious virus that can cause serious illness in young and unvaccinated dogs. Bone marrow and the intestinal tract tend to be the parts of the body that get the most affected. Parvo is a very serious disease, and can absolutely be lethal.
Although more common in puppies and adolescent dogs, parvovirus can affect older dogs, especially those that haven’t received their vaccinations. Read on for the complete lowdown on parvo.
How Do Dogs Get Parvo?
Canine parvovirus is not airborne but you’ll find it on many environmental surfaces. It can live on the ground, on human hands and even on clothing.
It gets spread through contact with contaminated feces. Dogs can potentially carry it in their fur or on their paws if they have contact with contaminated fecal material.
It’s possible for parvovirus to live outdoors for months, if not years. It’s resistant to many disinfectants but not bleach and specialist cleaners used in veterinary hospitals.
Why Are Puppies Susceptible to Parvovirus?
Puppies aged between 6 weeks to 6 months are most at risk of parvo. When puppies are younger than 6 weeks old, they may still retain some of their mother’s antibodies, provided she had her full course of parvo vaccinations.
Typically, puppies get their parvo vaccinations at around 6, 8, and 12 weeks of age. A puppy is generally considered fully protected from parvo 2 weeks after the last vaccination.
Are Some Breeds More Susceptible to Parvo?
The stress of weaning can lead to more severe cases of parvo in puppies. Stress weakens the immune system. When they have a secondary infection or a parasite as well, puppies may suffer a more severe case of parvo.
Some breeds of dogs are more prone to parvo. These include Rottweilers, American Stafford Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds and English Springer Spaniels. No one is quite sure why.
Can Cats Get Parvo?
Cats can also suffer from feline panleukopenia, a kind of parvovirus that can be serious. Although dogs can’t catch feline parvovirus from cats, cats can get infected with canine parvovirus.
They tend to suffer far milder clinical symptoms although there is a type of canine parvovirus that can lead to serious illness in cats. The feline parvovirus vaccine may offer some cross-protection against canine parvovirus.
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What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Parvo?
A dog with canine parvovirus will begin to display symptoms within 3 to 7 days of infection. Lethargy may be the first sign along with a loss of appetite. They may also often have a fever.
As the virus takes hold, a dog or puppy may start to suffer from severe diarrhea and vomiting. Very ill puppies can collapse and experience higher-than-normal heart rates along with hypothermia.
Because parvo is common in young dogs, you should contact your vet if you suspect a puppy has contracted the virus. Here are the most common symptoms:
- Bloody diarrhea, vomiting and fever
- Loss of appetite, weight loss and lethargy
- Weakness, dehydration and depression
A vet will base a parvovirus diagnosis on a physical examination, a dog’s history, and laboratory tests.
A fecal test is one of the most common ways to complete the diagnosis. Your vet will take a fecal swab, and test it similarly to the human COVID tests you can now purchase at the supermarket. The test takes about 10 minutes.
Although the test is accurate, a negative result will not always mean there’s no parvovirus present in a dog with symptoms. This is because your dog may not be shedding the viral antigen at the time of the test. Your vet may need to carry out further tests in such cases.
How Long Does Parvovirus Last?
Just a tiny quantity of fecal material entering the mouth of a dog can cause infection. There is then an incubation period, typically 3-7 days, during which the dog may be asymptomatic. It’s at this time that the virus will begin attacking the throat and tonsils.
Once in the bloodstream, the virus will move elsewhere in the body. The most hard-hit places are the walls of the small intestines and bone marrow. In small dogs, parvovirus can affect the heart.
Due to the attack on bone marrow, a dog’s immune system can become weakened. This lets the virus wreak havoc on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract more easily. It’s here that most damage can happen. Nutrients stop getting absorbed. There’s increased loss of fluids and bacteria stop getting to the gut. All this can cause serious health issues.
Although parvo in dogs is not always fatal, dogs can die of dehydration or shock or from the damage caused by septic toxins getting into the bloodstream.
Dogs can recover in 5 to 10 days – with intensive hospital care – after symptoms begin but a complete recovery may take much longer depending on the seriousness of the disease and the damage it does.
Treatment for Parvovirus
There is no specific drug on the market that will kill off the virus in infected dogs. Treatment tends to support a dog’s bodily systems until the pet’s immune system can combat the viral infection.
Treatment needs to start straight away by combating dehydration and replacing electrolyte and protein losses, controlling diarrhea and vomiting, and stopping any secondary infections from taking hold. With the right treatment, survival rates can reach 90 percent.
However – keep in mind that the required care is intensive, hospitalized care. Think similarly to a human intensive care unit. This care is extremely expensive, and again – not guaranteed to save the life of the puppy. For parvo, practice prevention above all else!
Prevention of Parvo in Dogs and Puppies
Vaccines and good hygiene practices are crucial to prevention. Young puppies are most at risk. This is partly because the natural immunity they get from their mothers’ milk can wear off before their own immune systems are mature enough to kick in.
It’s wise to only let puppies socialize with fully vaccinated dogs until they have completed their own set of vaccinations. Owners need to ensure their dogs receive a booster vaccine at 1 year of age. Dogs should continue to get vaccines every 1 to 3 years all their lives.
A tiny percentage of dogs may not develop protective immunity after vaccination and remain susceptible to the infection.
Owners need to do their best to stop their dogs or puppies from having contact with the fecal waste of other dogs. They can help by disposing of their own dog’s waste material to mitigate the spread of canine parvovirus infection.
Seek the Advice of a Vet
If your dog or puppy is displaying any signs of parvovirus, you should contact a vet immediately. We have a team of veterinary experts available to offer help and advice. Book a slot today. You might be saving your pet’s life!