Parvo in Dogs: How To Treat and Prevent a Deadly Virus
Parvo in dogs, officially known as canine parvovirus, is a dangerous virus that affects dogs and puppies and can be deadly if left untreated. The good news is you can protect your pup from this highly contagious virus by keeping her vaccinations up to date and securing swift treatment if you suspect your pup has been infected.
Read on to learn how parvovirus spreads and how to identify the signs and symptoms of the disease so you can get your dog the treatment she needs.
What Is Parvo in Dogs?
Parvo is a highly contagious virus that causes an animal's small intestines to become inflamed. Dogs are most frequently infected with the virus before the age of 6 months—though older dogs can get the disease, too. Dog breeds such as Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, American pit bull terriers, English springer spaniels, and German shepherds are also at an increased risk for parvovirus infection.
How Do Dogs Get Parvo?
Dogs contract the gastrointestinal (GI) illness through exposure to vomit, fecal matter, or surfaces and clothing that contain the infective organisms. The incubation period of the infection is four to 14 days, and infected dogs can start transmitting the virus before they show clinical signs. Canine parvovirus is ready to invade unprotected dogs wherever dogs gather—including dog parks, boarding kennels, and even backyards where the virus can linger for a long time. Early vaccination is vital.
Parvo Symptoms and Signs
The virus targets a dog's digestive system, so that's where you'll see some signs of infection, says Kathryn Primm, DVM, of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tenn. Here are some signs she says to look out for:
- Diarrhea, often bloody and liquid
- Loss of appetite
- General weakness
Primm says she most often sees the vomiting and diarrhea in pups around 5 to 6 months old who didn't complete their vaccines.
Any dogs or puppies showing these signs should get help from their veterinarian ASAP.
Veterinarians conduct diagnostic tests that identify DNA within a fecal sample and examine a blood sample to provide a parvovirus diagnosis. Immediate treatment should follow the diagnosis. The parvovirus treatment process is highly involved.
Medora Pashmakova, DVM, DACVECC, recently offered a successful treatment plan that involves four stages of therapy:
- Treat for shock with fluid therapy.
- Rehydrate with intravenous therapy. Affected dogs have lost high amounts of moisture through vomiting and diarrhea.
- Replace nutrition that was lost through the GI issues.
- Take additional nutrition measures to re-establish metabolic maintenance.
If your dog is infected, your veterinarian will review all the particulars of parvo treatment. Some options even allow you to treat a dog at home instead of requiring several nights of hospitalization.
And the best news? Parvovirus treatment is improving.
"It used to be that more than half of these dogs died, but we have improved our success rates over the years," Primm says. "Still, it is expensive and hard on the dog to go through this, so vaccination is absolutely the best idea."
Parvo Vaccine Is the Key to Prevention
Usually given as a part of a puppy's initial vaccination series, the parvovirus vaccine is part of the DAPP vaccine, a combination vaccination that protects against distemper virus, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza virus.
You and your veterinarian should discuss the right timing for your dog to be vaccinated because guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) vary based on your pup's age. The association generally recommends three doses of the vaccine starting at 6 weeks through 16 weeks of age, administered at intervals of two to four weeks. For dogs older than 16 weeks, the AAHA suggests two doses administered three to four weeks apart.
The vaccine is injected right under the skin. After the initial series of vaccines, your dog should receive a booster vaccine after one year. Additional booster vaccines given at three-year intervals after the initial booster.
Because dogs can become part of our families in a variety of ways and at various stages in their lives, Primm says to go ahead and vaccinate if you are unsure if your dog has been previously vaccinated for parvovirus.
"In my experience, it is far better to be safe than sorry," Primm says.
Worried about side effects from the parvovirus vaccine? Any vaccine can have risks, though adverse effects are uncommon and usually mild and short-lived. The American Veterinary Medical Association lists several possible side effects: slight pain or swelling where the vaccine is administered, a mild fever, or a reduced appetite or activity level. Your veterinarian will tell you what to look for and when to be concerned about side effects from the parvo vaccine.
Keeping Your Puppy Safe From Parvo
The vaccine works, but what should you do before your puppy finishes their initial series of injections at the four-month mark?
"Be smart about it," Primm says. "If you know your puppy is not finished with vaccines, do not go to dog parks or around dogs you do not know. If you want to expose her to the big-box pet store, for example, just carry her and don't put her down on the floor or to sniff in the parking lot. Many of these pathogens are killed in direct sunlight, so choose areas in the sun for her to learn and sniff."
Primm also recommends discouraging your puppy from drinking from puddles and eating sketchy things found on the ground.
If you are unsure if your dog has been protected from parvo, make an appointment now for her preventive vaccinations. And while you're at it, make sure your dog is up-to-date on all of her boosters.
Can Humans Get Parvo from Dogs?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans cannot get parvovirus from a dog or a cat and vice versa. Parvovirus B19 infects humans, but this particular strain does not infect animals. The strains that can infect animals don't infect humans.
Of course, it's always a good idea to use safety gear like gloves and sanitizing products when cleaning up any messes from an infected pet. And you'll want to prevent the virus from spreading in a multiple-pet household.