Parvo virus causes severe intestinal tract disease in dogs. Parvo first appeared in 1978 and quickly spread all over the world, now being famous as one of the most contagious and deadly diseases in the dog population.
How Common is Parvo?
Parvo virus is an epidemic worldwide, especially in metropolitan areas and regions where vaccination programs are sporadic.
What are the Initial Signs of Parvo?
The classic symptoms of Parvo are severe vomiting and diarrhea (often with blood in it along with extreme weakness and dehydration. Parvo literally destroys the lining of the GI tract, allowing bacteria to infect the bloodstream (a serious condition called septicemia). On those occasions when puppies (and sometimes adult dogs) die from Parvo its usually due to the combined effects of dehydration, upset in the pH balance of the bloodstream, and septicemia. The symptoms of Parvo are remarkably similar to, and as serious as, those of people with radiation sickness (such as from nuclear fallout) with the difference being that recovery is usually complete (meaning with no lasting side effects) in those puppies who recover from Parvo.
Although veterinary medicine has made tremendous progress in the treatment of Parvo in recent years and many puppies are being saved, Parvo should still be considered an extremely serious and often fatal disease.
How is Parvo Diagnosed?
Parvo is diagnosed on the basis of patient history clinical signs and laboratory tests. The two common laboratory tests used to diagnose Parvo are (1) the fecal Parvo CITE test and (2) the Complete Blood Cell count (often called the CBC). Through the fecal Parvo CITE test we are looking directly for the presence of the virus in the patient’s stool. Through the Complete Blood Cell count (CBC) we are looking at characteristic changes in the numbers of white blood cells which indicate a viral disease.
How is Parvo Virus Transmitted?
Dogs acquire infection with Parvo virus by ingesting (meaning to swallow) the infectious virus particles. The Parvo virus is one of the hardiest viruses known to science and this virus can live outside the body in a dormant yet infectious state hr one to two years. Puppies do not have to be in direct contact with other dogs to catch Parvo since the virus can be spread by people’s clothing, shoes, and other inanimate surfaces, and can even travel on the dust in the air. A dog (or puppy) who is shedding the Parvo virus can defecate (go to the bathroom) on a surface and then a susceptible puppy can come by and sniff or lick this surface over a year later and can still catch Parvo.
How is Parvo Treated?
As with the common cold virus in humans, we have no medication which works directly against the Parvo virus itself Our therapy, therefore, is directed at providing as much supportive care as possible until the virus has ‘˜run its course’. Parvo is usually treated by administering fluids, antibiotic injections, and medications designed to curb vomiting and diarrhea. In many cases, successful therapy requires around-the-clock intensive care hospitilaziton.
What is the Prognosis for a Case of Parvo?
The prognosis varies from case to case with the prognosis always being at best guarded.
Factors which generally affect the progress are:
(1) breed of dog (Dobermans, Rott and toy breed dogs have a harder time recovering)
(2) age of the dog (young puppies have a harder time recovering than do older puppies and adults)
(3) vaccination status (those dogs who have had at least some exposure to vaccine - no matter now inadequate - usually fare better)
(4) promptness of intensive care (those who receive fluids and medications immediately will fare better than those who don’t).
How is Parvo Prevented?
The best way to prevent Parvo is through adequate vaccination. Adequate vaccination begins before birth which means the mother dog should be current on her vaccinations at the time she gives birth because the puppy acquires its first immunity toward Parvo from the antibodies it receives from its mother (called Passive Transfer of immunity). Then it’s important that the puppy receive an initial vaccination against Parvo early in life, followed by the full series of puppy boosters.
As an example, I vaccinate puppies with a Parvo vaccine at 6 weeks followed by a booster at 9. 12, 15, and 18 weeks. Then the puppy (dog) should receive a booster once yearly thereafter. The age when the puppy series is begun and the number of boosters given will vary with your particular circumstances based on what type of vaccine is being used, the local Parvo situation in your area and other factors so be sure to check with your regular veterinarian to see when this series is begun and what boosters are involved.
The main thing to remember in this regard is that the puppy series for Parvo is begun very early (usually around 6 weeks).
What if the Puppy does not Receive or Stay on the Vaccination Program?
It has been my experience with Parvo that if a good vaccination schedule is not adopted or adhered to then the puppy is at greatly increased risk of acquiring Parvo.
What are Other Ways to Prevent the Spread of Parvo?
Common disinfectants (such as Listerine, Lysol, alcohol, etc) will not kill Parvo. The only things which will kill Parvo outright are fire (burning contaminated blankets, newspapers, etc), dilute Clorox solution (1 part Clorox to 32 parts water) and quaternary/disinfectant solutions listed specifically for Parvo virus.
Can My Cat Catch Parvo?
No, cats cannot catch Parvo from a dog or any other source. However, cats are susceptible to another similar disease called Feline Panleukopenia (also called Feline Distemper) which is closely related to Parvo. We have a vaccination for Feline Panleukopenia (often called the Feline Distemper shot).
How can I Learn More about Parvo Virus?
Consult your local veterinarian and they’ll be glad to tell you more!