What is Parvo?
Parvo, as it is commonly termed, is short for Parvovirus. Parvovirus is an extremely infectious virus affecting canines (including foxes, wolves and coyotes.) The virus multiplies in the lymph nodes of the throat and tonsils, subsequently targeting and attacking rapidly dividing cells in lymphoid tissue, bone marrow and the gastrointestinal tract. In puppies, the virus may also attack the heart muscle causing lifelong damage. Parvovirus unfortunately, is often fatal.
What are the signs and symptoms of Parvo?
This really depends on the age of the dog and the body system targeted by the virus but most commonly we see:
- not eating
- persistent vomiting (which changes from containing food to bile or bloody fluid.)
- liquid diarrhea - red/brown in color and foul smelling
- A high body temperature (pyrexia)
If you notice symptoms of severe vomiting or diarrhea (particularly in puppies) please call your local veterinarian immediately so that they can advise on the best course of action.
Your veterinarian will want to take every precaution possible to limit the exposure of parvovirus to other pets in the vicinity of the clinic and to ensure that supportive treatment begins as soon as possible while a diagnosis is being made.
If left untreated, parvovirus can be rapidly fatal.
How is Parvo transmitted?
Parvo may be passed from one dog to another by either direct contact or ingestion of feces (via objects.)
Direct contact – Any direct contact where secretions of the virus are present. This may be via a person (on their shoe for example), or via another dog with the virus.
Ingestion of feces – Large numbers of the virus are shed in the feces of an infected dog into the environment. The virus can be ingested by consuming infected feces via feeding bowls, bedding, kennels, and grass areas, for example.
Which dogs are more at risk to Parvo?
Puppies, both un-weaned and weaned, are prone to being infected by the virus, as are young adults. Puppies and adult dogs who are not vaccinated are at a very high risk of contracting the infection.
How is Parvo diagnosed?
Based on the sick dog’s symptoms, a veterinarian will run particular tests to gain a diagnosis of Parvovirus. These include the ELISA test (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbant Assay) usually performed in-house that takes approximately 10-15 minutes. A small sample of your dog feces is used to run the test.
Additional blood tests may be run to assist treatment and diagnosis.
Treatment of Parvo
There isn’t a drug available that kills Parvovirus, which is why prevention is of the utmost importance. The symptoms can be treated and will involve your dog being admitted into a veterinary hospital or clinic, usually for a number of days.
An afflicted dog will receive intravenous fluid therapy, antibiotics, and drugs to reduce or stop the vomiting. Vitamin B therapy may be indicated as well as drugs that boost the immune system and its response. For those who have lost a lot of blood through diarrhea, blood transfusions can be helpful.
It is this aggressive supportive treatment that gives the dog the best chance of surviving.
If your dog contracts Parvo, certain items such as bowls, bedding and toys should either be discarded or cleaned with disinfectant. However, please note, many disinfectants do not kill the Parvo virus. It is preferable to check with your veterinarian which one to use and the advised protocols. Don’t forget to disinfect soles of your shoes and clothing (normally the disinfectant can be added to the powder drawer of your washing machine), and mop floors with the disinfectant. Outside areas will need washing or hosing down with it, too.
Prevention of Parvo
Vaccination against Parvo is key, both in preventing the virus spreading and in minimizing the chance of your dog becoming infected. It has an incubation period of three to five days but the virus can remain in the environment for many months.
For vaccination recommendations please visit Dog Vaccinations 101.
It is, of course, advisable to keep your dog away from known affected dogs, environments or places. Everything possible should be done to keep your dog free of this potentially fatal disease.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian