Canine parvovirus is a highly transmissible disease that can live in the environment for at least months, and possibly as long as two years. The virus affects dogs and wild mammals, such as coyotes, wolves, foxes, skunks, and racoons. All dogs are susceptible to infection, but puppies between 6 to 20 weeks of age are most at risk. The team at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic wants to provide information on this concerning virus to help you protect your precious pooch.

How can parvovirus infect my dog?

Transmission occurs when your dog comes in contact with an infected dog, infected fecal material, or contaminated soil or objects. Infected dogs shed the virus while they are ill and for up to 10 days after recovery. A tiny amount of infected feces can spread infection by contaminating anything from food and water bowls, to hands and clothing. Unvaccinated dogs and young puppies are most susceptible to infection. Certain breeds, including German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, and rottweilers, are at increased risk for developing the disease.

What signs will my infected dog exhibit?

Canine parvovirus attacks the bone marrow, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and in rare cases, the heart. In the bone marrow, the virus destroys young immune cells, which weakens the body’s potential to fight the infection. The decrease in protective white blood cells allows the virus to attack the GI tract, and the small intestine lining can be severely damaged. Signs your dog will likely exhibit include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. Treatment must begin promptly, or your dog can die 48 to 72 hours following the onset of signs. 

In puppies infected in utero or younger than 8 weeks, the virus can attack the heart, causing inflammation and possible heart tissue necrosis. Puppies affected with this form of the disease will have difficulty breathing in conjunction with cardiac failure. Prognosis is poor for these puppies, but, fortunately, this condition is rare.

How is my dog diagnosed with parvovirus?

If your dog is exhibiting representative signs and they are young, unvaccinated, or incompletely vaccinated, they will be suspected of having a parvovirus infection. A fecal test will be performed to confirm the diagnosis, and isolation protocols will be established to prevent other dogs from becoming infected.

What is the treatment for my dog diagnosed with parvovirus?

No cure is available for parvovirus, and treatment is therefore focused on supportive therapy. Your dog will likely need a hospital stay to receive the appropriate care.  With prompt treatment, your pet has a 90% chance of survival. Full recovery typically takes about a week.

  • Intravenous fluids are typically needed to replace the fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhea. Oral fluids alone are not sufficient to meet these needs, especially since your dog’s damaged GI tract cannot absorb adequate fluid or nutrients.
  • Medications to control nausea and diarrhea can help slow fluid losses.
  • Nutritional support may be necessary if treatment is prolonged. A liquid diet can be administered through a feeding tube placed through your dog’s nose into their stomach.
  • Antibiotics to prevent secondary infections are usually needed, since bacteria can easily cross your dog’s damaged intestinal wall.

Parvovirus is extremely contagious, and your dog will need to be quarantined for 10 days after their signs resolve. If you have other dogs in your home, you will need to take precautions to ensure they are not infected.

  • Use a solution with one part bleach and 30 parts water to clean any area in your home that your infected dog has inhabited, including all surfaces, bedding, and food and water bowls.
  • Your lawn cannot be bleached, but rainwater in conjunction with the sanitizing effects of direct sunlight can decrease the viral concentration in a few weeks.
  • After visiting your infected, quarantined dog, clean your shoes in a bleach water bath, wash your hands thoroughly, and change clothes or shower before handling your other healthy pets, or their food and water.

How can I prevent parvovirus from affecting my dog?

Puppies should receive their first parvo vaccines at 6 to 8 weeks of age, followed by boosters at 10 to 12 weeks, 14 to 16 weeks, and 12 months, and then vaccinations every one to three years. Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, they are susceptible to parvovirus, and you should verify the vaccination status of any dog your puppy contacts. All dogs should be kept away from the feces of other dogs and wild animals. If you board your dog, ensure the facility requires proof of a current parvo vaccination.

Parvovirus is a deadly disease that can be easily prevented by keeping your dog’s vaccine status up to date. If you would like to have your dog vaccinated, to ensure they are protected against this frightening virus, contact our team at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment.