What is Parvo?

Parvovirus is a highly infectious viral disease that plagues our canine companions.  Once a dog is infected there is no cure, only supportive care unless the dog clears the virus, and without treatment, parvo kills almost every young dog it comes into contact with.

Parvovirus steamrolled into the spotlight in the 1970’s, and killed many dogs of all ages. Today, parvovirus is mainly a problem in puppies and young dogs with immature immune systems. This is because most older dogs have been vaccinated or have gained immunity through natural exposure.  Parvovirus lives in the environment in fecal matter or vomitus from infected dogs. Parvovirus is like the undead plague of the viral world: it is tough to kill (requires bleach or something stronger) and can live for months in soil or even on concrete, waiting for it’s next victim. Dogs get parvo when they ingest the virus from the environment.  If you have parvovirus in your environment, you can get decontaminate by spraying the area with a 1:10 dilute bleach solution.

Parvovirus affects the whole body, and comes on quickly, only taking 3-4 days to show signs after a dog has been infected. Dogs with parvo act very sick: they vomit, have bloody diarrhea, have a low appetite and energy level, and become dehydrated very quickly. Parvovirus mostly attacked the gastrointestinal system and the immune system, leaving dogs dehydrated, susceptible to other infections, and anemic, with low blood cell counts.

Almost every species of mammals have its own parvovirus, but usually the virus cannot jump from species to species, i.e. you can’t get parvo from your dog. There are some strains of parvo out there that can infect both dogs and cats, however, so if you have a dog that gets parvo, isolate the dog from any cats in the household.

The only treatment for parvo is hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics. It can take days for a dog to recover, even up to a week, and the cost of hospitalization can become very expensive. Some pet parents elect to try and nurse their pups at home, giving fluids under the skin and oral antibiotics, but the survival rate declines steeply without the care of a veterinary staff. Survival rates of patients that are hospitalized are 90% and only 60-75% of patients that are treated at home survive.

Fortunately, parvovirus can be almost completely prevented by vaccination.  To protect your pup, make sure to get all the parvo boosters when he or she is a puppy: this is usually 3 or 4 boosters in puppies, and two boosters in adults.  Until your dog has received all his shots, keep him away from places that dogs frequent, such as parks, dog parks, petstores, groomers, etc., and keep him away from any fecal material.