Parvovirus is a small virus that has been around since the 1970's and is species-specific--that is, it will only affect the species it was originally "designed" for. (This also means you cannot give parvo to your dog or catch it from your dog.) Due to it's small size and structure, the Parvo virus is VERY stable in the environment and can survive for up to 7 years in soil and unwashed soft surfaces. This means Parvo can be found almost anywhere, but especially in areas where other dogs frequently use the bathroom (dog parks, yards, common dog-walking areas). Unvaccinated puppies and young dogs are extremely vulnerable to this diease, although we have rarely seen it in older unvaccinated dogs.
An area becomes contaminated with Parvo when an infected dog defecates or vomits in an area. Unless the area is immediately disenfected with a dilute bleach solution, it can remain contaminated for up to 7 years. An unvaccinated dog catches Parvo by encountering either feces or vomit from an infected dog, or from coming in contact with a contaminated area. The tricky part is, not all dogs will act sick even if they've been infected, so these dogs (called "shedders") can contaminate very large areas since their owners do not know to keep them confined.
After an unvaccinated puppy is exposed to the virus, it takes 3 to 7 days for the puppy to show signs of the disease. Classic signs of Parvo include vomiting, lethargy, dehydration and diarrhea. The virus works by destroying the lining of the intestines, so that diarrhea occurs and bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream. Since the puppy cannot keep water down, he will quickly dehydrate and can die within 2-3 days if no medical attention is sought. Puppies can also die from septicemia, which is a condition that results when large amounts of bacteria gain entrance to the bloodstream through the intestines.
Diagnosis of Parvo virus is made with a combination of history (no vaccines or inapproprate vaccination), clinical signs, and/or a quick bedside test that is performed using a rectal swab. The test results are returned within 10-15 minutes for a very fast diagnosis.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO SEEK IMMEDIATE VETERINARY CARE FOR A PUPPY YOU SUSPECT MAY HAVE PARVOVIRUS. Hospitalized veterinary care is aimed at supporting the puppy and addressing the symptoms while the puppy's immune system fights off the virus. At Idaho Veterinary Hospital, we recently started using an anti-viral treatment within the first 48 hours of signs of Parvo, and have found it decreases hospital stays and increases survival rates. Other important components of treatment include IV fluid therapy, antibiotics, anti-nausea medications, frequent monitoring, pain control and warmth. It is important to note that there is no cure for Parvo, and hospitalization gives your puppy the best chance of surviving this deadly disease.
Survival rate for hospitalized puppies can easily exceed 80%, especially if disease is caught early. Home care for Parvo is not recommended, but is sometimes the only option. Home care includes fluids given under the skin, anti-nausea medications and antibiotics. Survival rates for home care are signficantly less, around 40-50%.
A correct vaccination schedule for puppies is below. It is important that young puppies receive ALL 3 vaccines and that they are kept isolated from other unvaccinated dogs and from areas where other puppies/dogs use the bathroom.
- 8 weeks of age: 1st Parvo vaccination
- 12 weeks of age: 2nd Parvo vaccination
- 16 weeks of age: 3rd and final Parvo vaccination, Rabies vaccine often given at this appointment as well