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Puppy Owners Beware: Here’s What You Need To Know About Parvo
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can cause death within 42-72 hours if your puppy does not receive immediate treatment.
A diagnosis of canine parvovirus is a nightmare come true for any new puppy owner or dog breeder. Unfortunately, canine parvovirus, or parvo, is a common virus with deadly consequences. It's best described as a potentially fatal viral infection that invades the gastrointestinal tract. The virus typically wreaks havoc in the small intestine, where it destroys cells, impairs absorption, and disrupts the gut barrier. In puppies, this devastating disease can also spread to the bone marrow and lymphopoietic tissues, and in some cases, the heart. Additionally, it weakens your puppy’s immune system and makes it harder to fight off secondary infections.
Known as the speedy killer, this fast-moving virus can result in death within 42-72 hours of symptoms appearing and has a 91% mortality rate when left untreated. But with immediate and proper treatment, the mortality rate drops to 30%. Since deaths usually occur within two to three days following the onset of clinical signs, rushing your pet to the vet for immediate treatment can make the difference between life and death.
If your puppy shows any of the following symptoms, he could have Parvo or another serious illness and needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Since puppies are so small and are still developing their immune systems, it’s always better to call your vet right away rather than wait and watch for changes. Look out for these signs and symptoms:
-High Fever or Low Body Temperature
-Anorexia & Loss of Appetite
-Abdominal Pain & Discomfort
When your puppy arrives at the vet, your veterinarian will diagnose your pet using a physical exam, history of symptoms, and laboratory testing. Fecal testing will be done to confirm if your puppy is positive for parvo. Once your puppy is diagnosed, your vet will be able to provide supportive care and monitoring to help your fur baby overcome the virus. Since parvo is a virus, there is no set cure or antibiotics that can be used to treat it, although your vet may use antibiotics to treat or prevent secondary infections. Most likely, your puppy’s course of treatment will involve a 3-7 day hospital stay with round-the-clock monitoring and nursing care. Your vet will provide fluids, electrolytes, and nutrition to help your pup stay strong and prevent dehydration. They will also mitigate symptoms with anti-emetics for vomiting, blood transfusions, and more. In the unfortunate event your puppy has to be hospitalized for parvo, click here for resources that will make your puppy’s treatment more affordable.
Part of what makes parvo so dangerous is that it spreads extremely easily. Parvo spreads through direct dog-to-dog contact with other contagious dogs or through contact with contaminated feces (stool), environments, or people. Only trace amounts of parvovirus need to be present in pet waste or on contaminated surfaces to cause severe illness. In short, this virus is highly contagious and certainly not one to be taken lightly!
In general, you should practice good hygiene in your home to keep your pet healthy. But if your pet is parvo-positive, you’ll need to do an extra thorough deep cleaning of every single surface, toy, bowl, leash, and anything else your pet has touched. Keep in mind that parvo can live on surfaces for a surprisingly long time — up to a year in the right conditions — and is known to be resistant to heat, cold, drying, humidity, and even some cleaners. VCA recommends cleaning potentially contaminated areas with a solution that contains 3/4 cup of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water to actually get rid of the virus.
While puppies are most susceptible to Parvo, dogs of any age can contract the virus. Therefore, if a dog in your household tests positive for the virus, it’s important to immediately isolate them from other dogs in the home. Since there is an effective vaccine for canine parvovirus, your vet may advise that other dogs in the home receive an extra booster shot to help ward off symptoms.
As mentioned above, puppies are most likely to contract parvo. Specifically, puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months are the most likely to catch the virus and typically have the worst outcomes. Until puppies reach six weeks of age, they may be protected by antibodies from their mom if the mother dog had been vaccinated against parvo. But between six weeks and six months, your puppy will be too young to be fully vaccinated against the virus itself and those antibodies would have worn off. Additionally, some dog breeds are known to have an increased risk of parvo. These include Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Staffordshire Terriers, English Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, and Labradors.
Of course, the best method of treating Parvo is prevention. As puppies grow up, they should receive a series of vaccinations against parvo. Puppies should receive parvo vaccines at approximately 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and between 14 and 16 weeks of age. As adults, your dog should continue to receive yearly parvo booster shots for lifelong protection. The vaccine is highly effective, but it’s not safe to assume your puppy is protected from parvo until they have finished their entire course of puppy shots.
Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, practice good hygiene and limit their exposure to unvaccinated dogs or contaminated surfaces. For example, hold your puppy in your arms or on your lap at the vet to prevent him from coming into contact with germs on the floor. Additionally, this may mean no going for walks or visiting the dog park just yet! Any time you personally interact with other dogs, wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your puppy and change your clothes as necessary. Although these steps may seem like a hassle, it’s just for a little while and will help ensure your pup stays healthy!
At the same time, socialization is important for your puppy’s healthy development. However, there are ways to socialize your puppy safely. For example, have guests who come over to meet your puppy wash their hands before you allow them to touch the pup. Your puppy can also safely interact with other vaccinated adult dogs in your home. Additionally, you may be able to safely enroll your puppy in puppy training classes or puppy play sessions — assuming the classes are held in properly sanitized environments — once they have had two doses of the parvo vaccine. However, other vets and dog trainers say it’s best to wait for puppies to have finished their entire course of vaccines first. Ask your vet what plan is right for your pet.