Author: Tracy Reis, DVM
Parvo is a virus that is highly contagious, can kill quickly, and can survive for up to 5 months in the right environment. It is much more prevalent in puppies, especially if they are not fully vaccinated. Dogs can contract parvo if they have been exposed to other dogs that may or may not be sick but are still shedding the virus, or if they have been in public places where the virus can exist such as dog parks, dog beaches, pet stores and shelters, to name a few.
Parvo is contracted via the fecal-oral route. This does not mean that your puppy needs to eat the feces, but they may have stepped in an area where the virus was living and then licked their feet. It is a virulent virus that attacks those cells that have a rapid turnover, mainly the lining of the gastrointestinal tract as well as the bone marrow, causing immune-suppression. This weakens the dog’s immune system and opens him up to secondary infections.
Most dogs that are affected are 6-20 weeks old, but older dogs with a weakened immune system can also contract parvo if they are not up-to-date on their vaccinations. Doberman Pinchers and Rottweilers contract the virus more easily and their symptoms are more severe than in other breeds. At this time, there is no known reason why this occurs.
The incubation period is between 4-5 days, and then the acute phase of the disease sets in. The first symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. There may or may not be a fever present, and some dogs will have severe abdominal pain while others will not. The diarrhea usually starts as watery with mucus and then becomes bloody. Because of the severity of vomiting and diarrhea, life-threatening dehydration can set in quickly.
There is an easy test that can be run on a small amount of your dog’s stool at most veterinary clinics, and if it is positive, then aggressive treatment needs to be started right away. This includes intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medications, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and pain medication if indicated. In more severe cases, plasma transfusions may be necessary. The virus usually runs its course in 3-5 days, but it depends on the strain. Lately, there have been some newer, more virulent strains that are more deadly.
Parvo used to mean almost certain death, but now if medical attention is sought quickly, and treatment started, the recovery rate is high. The cost of treatment can be high depending on how long the dog is hospitalized and how severe the illness. It can run into thousands of dollars. The easiest way to keep your dog from getting parvo is to have your new puppy vaccinated, and do not visit public places until all vaccines have been given. Parvo is included in the standard vaccine combo given a total of three times to puppies, starting at 8 weeks and given every 3-4 weeks for a total of 3 vaccines. There are low cost vaccine clinics available in most cities so no one has to lose their puppy to a preventable disease.
As stated before, parvo is a hardy virus that can survive for a long time and is resistant to most disinfectants. Any bedding should be washed in hot water with bleach, and any areas where the puppy may have been should be cleaned with a 1:3 solution of bleach to hot water that is left on the surfaces for 20 minutes before rinsing.
There are some natural homeopathic remedies that can help with the symptoms of parvo. These include Agrimonia eup, Arsenicum alb, Belladona, Veratrum alb and Zingiber. Always consult a veterinarian before starting any treatment on your own.