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Posted on 03-04-2015

If you think vaccinations are a waste of your time and money, then you've probably never had a pet with parvovirus. Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious virus that affects primarily puppies and unvaccinated dogs. 

Parvovirus (frequently shortened to just "parvo") is a virus that attacks the cells of the gastrointestinal and immune systems. This causes lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. The dog can become extremely dehydrated in a very short period of time. Without treatment, the pet can die within 48-72 hours. The pet's immune system is also affected. White blood cells are the body's infection fighting cells. With parvovirus, these cells decrease to very low levels. This makes the pet susceptible to secondary bacterial infections, which makes it more difficult for the dog to recover and more likely to die.

Unfortunately, it's human nature to think when our pets get sick that if we wait a day or two they will get better. In the case of parvovirus, waiting to seek treatment or thinking you can treat it at home would be a fatal mistake for your pet. Any pet showing these symptoms should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. The earlier treatment is started; the more likely your pet will survive the illness.

Diagnosis

The first step in the evaluation is taking a complete history and performing a thorough physical examination on the pet. Based on the information and findings, the veterinarian will perform a test on the dog's feces to determine if the parvovirus is present. A complete blood count is also performed to determine the white and red blood cell counts. As discussed before, parvovirus can cause low white cell counts, which put the pet at risk for bacterial infections. The bloody diarrhea could cause a low red cell count, or anemia. Other blood work may be performed to determine whether the vomiting and diarrhea have caused electrolyte or sugar abnormalities, which need to be treated to prevent irregular heart rhythms. In some cases, abdominal x-rays may be needed to rule out other intestinal problems or complications. Additional fecal tests may be performed to discover whether intestinal parasites are also present.

Treatment

If parvovirus is diagnosed, your pet will be hospitalized for treatment. Since parvovirus is highly contagious, the pet will have to be isolated from others. There is no medication that will eradicate the parvovirus. Your dog's immune system must do that. Treatment involves supporting the pet by replacing the fluids, blood, and electrolytes that are lost due to the vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Intravenous (in the vein) or subcutaneous (beneath the skin) fluids with electrolytes will be given to reverse dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities. Fluids may also include dextrose to supplement or reverse low sugar levels.

Medications, called anti-emetics, may be given to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. Other medications may be given to reduce stomach acid or create a protective coating on the stomach. Sometimes anti-diarrheal medications will be used to slow down the diarrhea.

If the dog has severe anemia, a blood transfusion may be given. For low white cell counts, antibiotics will be started to prevent or eradicate secondary bacterial infections.

If other intestinal parasites are diagnosed with the parvovirus, they will be treated once the vomiting and diarrhea are resolved.

Prevention

The best way to prevent parvovirus infection is to vaccinate your pet. For puppies, their first vaccination should occur at 6-8 weeks old with booster vaccinations given every 2-4 weeks after that until they reach 16-20 weeks of age. A booster vaccination should be given one year after the puppy vaccination series is completed. Adult dogs should receive at least one vaccination followed by  booster immunizations at intervals to be determined by your veterinarian.

Parvovirus is easily passed by dog to dog contact. It can also be passed through exposure to an infected dog's feces, kennel, yard, floor, carpet, leash, collar, food and water bowls. Contaminated hands, shoes, and clothing can also spread the virus. This is especially a concern if there are multiple dogs in the household. Infection of one dog puts all the other dogs at risk if they have not been completely vaccinated or received their booster immunizations.

Parvovirus is difficult to kill or eradicate. The virus is resistant to heat, cold, humid, and dry conditions. Environments infected with parvovirus can stay infected for years. The virus is also resistant to many disinfectants. To disinfect items contaminated with parvovirus, a diluted bleach mixture should be used (1 part bleach to 20 parts water). If an item can't be disinfected, it should be discarded.

If your puppy or dog has not completed their vaccination series or received regular booster immunizations, you should avoid places where they may come in contact with any sick or unvaccinated pets or their feces.

Conclusion

Parvovirus is a serious infection affecting puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Without intervention, parvovirus is usually fatal to your pet. With prompt medical intervention, death can often be avoided. If your pet develops symptoms, seek medical help immediately. It can mean the difference between the life or death of your pet. The best way to prevent parvovirus infection is to completely vaccinate your pet and make sure your pet gets booster immunizations as recommended. For concerns or questions about parvovirus and your pet, talk to your veterinarian.

Sources

1. "Parvovirus." ASPCA. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/parvovirus>.

2. " Canine Parvovirus." Canine Parvovirus. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/canine-parvovirus.aspx>.

3. Primovic, Dr. Debra. "Parvoviral Enteritis (Parvo) in Dogs." Parvoviral Enteritis. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <http://www.petplace.com/dogs/parvoviral-enteritis/page1.aspx>. 

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