According to local West Greenwich veterinarian Dana Brown, pit bulls, rottweilers and puppies are particularly susceptible to contracting parvo. “It makes dogs sick and lethargic,” according to Dr. Brown.
WPRI Channel 12 in Providence reports that:
“Parvo is fatal to dogs unless they receive treatment with costly antibiotics. Brown said in a shelter, where resources are limited, euthanizing the dogs is sometimes the best option for protecting other animals.”
In other news, dozens of dogs have recently died of parvo in Milwaukee, an area that hasn’t seen an outbreak of the virus in a very long time.
Unfortunately, outbreaks of this deadly disease are not uncommon, especially at animal shelters.
A quick Google search on the phrase parvo outbreaks provides proof the problem is not limited to Providence or Milwaukee.
No one knows for certain why outbreaks of parvo seem to be escalating, but the growing problem of imported puppies has been linked to incidences not only of parvo, but a number of other canine diseases as well.
What is Canine Parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus type 2, or CPV-2, is a virus that attacks the GI tracts of puppies and dogs, domesticated and wild. The disease caused by CPV-2, commonly referred to as parvo, is highly contagious and very serious.
In addition to the gastrointestinal effect of parvo, in very young and unborn puppies, it can damage the heart muscle as well.
There are many strains of the parvo virus – some more virulent than others. CPV-2b and CPV-2c are currently the most frequently diagnosed variants in the U.S.
How is the Disease Spread?
Parvo is extremely contagious and is passed by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces, environments and people.
The virus can contaminate everything your dog touches, including:
- Kennel surfaces
- Food and water bowls
- Collars and leashes
- The people who handle your dog and their clothing
Parvo is a hardy virus – it can survive extremes in temperature and humidity levels. It lives in the environment for long periods of time. Even tiny amounts of parvo-infected stool can contaminate an area and transmit the disease to other dogs entering the area.
Parvo can be easily carried from one location to another on a dog’s hair or feet, on a contaminated pet carrier, on shoes and other objects.
Parvo causes similar symptoms in all infected puppies and dogs, including:
- Severe and often bloody diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
Dehydration can happen very quickly as a result of the diarrhea and vomiting, especially in very young puppies. Most deaths from parvo happen within 48 to 72 hours after the onset of symptoms. That’s why it’s critical that you take your pet to a vet or emergency clinic immediately if he shows any signs of this infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Definitive diagnosis of parvo requires laboratory and fecal testing.
There is no specific drug available that will kill parvo in an infected dog. Treatment involves propping up your pet’s organs and body systems until her immune response can conquer the infection.
Treatment is started immediately and consists of fluid and electrolyte replacement to combat dehydration, efforts to control the vomiting and diarrhea, and preventing secondary infections.
There are also homeopathic and herbal remedies that can be useful in treating the symptoms of parvo. I recommend you work with a holistic veterinarian to determine what natural therapies are advisable for your sick pet, and consider hospitalization until your dog is stable.
Treatment for a parvo infection can be very expensive, and there’s no guarantee that a dog won’t die no matter how aggressively the illness is handled.
Early intervention and aggressive treatment generally result in better outcomes, however, it’s nearly impossible for a veterinarian to tell at the onset of the illness what a dog’s chances of survival will be.
Because of the cost of treating a dog infected with parvo, some pet owners opt to treat their dogs at home rather than admit them to the hospital. Tragically, some owners of very ill dogs who can’t afford to continue treatments are forced to euthanize their pets.
Your dog’s chances of surviving parvo are much greater if she/he has IV fluids and medications administered, as oral medications are not absorbed well due to the infection affecting the lining of the intestinal wall.
If your dog has parvo, he must be kept warm and nursed well. Whether he’s in the hospital or at home, there’s a significant amount of mess and clean-up required due to the vomiting and diarrhea symptomatic of the infection.
Because parvo is so contagious, infected dogs must be isolated to prevent spread of the infection. Proper sanitation and disinfection of the area where the dog is contained is critically important.
As I mentioned earlier, parvo is a rugged virus. It is resistant to most of the usual household disinfectants. Household bleach (1:30 dilution in water) and potassium peroxide (brand names Trifectant or Virkon) will kill the virus. If you’re treating an infected dog at home, I recommend you talk to your veterinarian about how to eliminate the infective agents in your pet’s environment.
How to Safely Immunize Your Pet against Parvo
Even among holistic veterinarians and experts on the dangers of over-vaccination, there are minor differences of opinion on the best, least invasive way to protect a young dog from diseases like parvo.
Many holistic veterinarians doing core vaccinations recommend a parvo/distemper shot before your puppy is 11 weeks old (typically between the seventh and tenth week), a booster between 14 and 16 weeks, and titering thereafter. They should also recommend and provide a natural detox agent for newly vaccinated puppies, along with dosing instructions.
Dr. Ronald Schultz, chairperson of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and a renowned expert on the subject of over-vaccination of pets, recommends a titer at between two to four weeks after the second parvo/distemper shot at 14 weeks. This is the protocol I use at Natural Pet.
The titer will ensure your puppy was not only vaccinated, but immunized. Any pet can receive vaccines, but not all animals become immunized. In spite of proper vaccination against this viral disease, a small percentage of dogs known as non-responders do not develop immunity and remain susceptible to parvo for a lifetime.
Titering can give you that information as well, and early enough in your puppy’s life that you know you must be hyper-vigilant about keeping her safe from infection.
In addition to ‘non-responders,’ some puppies retain a level of immunity from their mother’s milk that interferes with the effectiveness of the vaccine. Titering gives you peace of mind your pup has been immunized effectively (or knowledge that he hasn’t been, which is also very important in those rare cases).
According to Dr. Schultz, if your pet’s titer shows she’s protected two to four weeks after her second ‘puppy’ shot, she’s immune for life. She won’t even need annual titering, much less re-vaccinations for distemper or parvo.
If you like the reassurance of annual titers for parvo, distemper or other diseases your dog might be susceptible to due to your location or your pet’s lifestyle, and you don’t mind paying for them, your holistic veterinarian should be happy to do them for you. Remember, pets only form lifelong immunity to viruses. Pets can become re-infected with bacteria.
Another benefit of visiting a holistic practitioner for puppy shots or other vaccinations is that many use single vaccines rather than combo shots, so your pet is only getting the vaccines she really needs and nothing more. This is what I recommend most commonly at Natural Pet. Single vaccines can be difficult to find and only holistically oriented vets tend to buy them.
To locate a holistic veterinarian in your area, or one that will do phone consultations, visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
How the Parvo Vaccine Works: Timing Matters
First a little background on the purpose of vaccines and how they work.
The purpose of puppy and kitten vaccinations is to protect little ones during the ‘window of opportunity’ during which the antibodies they received from their mothers wear off and their own immune system responses kick in.
It’s impossible to know by looking at a puppy when this transition occurs. However, it is possible to titer a pregnant female and predict with extreme accuracy this window of opportunity, thereby enabling perfect timing of puppy vaccines. In a perfect world of responsible breeding, this would be the norm.
Some exceptional breeder clients of my Natural Pet Animal Hospital do order the titers on their pregnant bitches and arrange for perfectly timed puppy shots, which is the gold standard.
Vaccinating a puppy before the maternal antibodies wear off is essentially worthless – the pup gets all the adjuvant (heavy metals), but no antibody protection.
It’s guesswork to assume maternal antibodies begin wearing off around six to eight weeks of age, which is of course when most veterinarians and breeders start vaccinations. The shots continue every three to four weeks until the animals are about 16 weeks old, when in theory their immune systems are functioning adequately on their own.
My own protocol at Natural Pet is to follow Ron Schultz’s recommendation (above), which is to give one vaccine before 11 weeks (usually at nine weeks), and another at around 14 weeks, then titer two to four weeks later. This is considered a ‘core’ vaccine protocol; the basic minimum number of vaccines to protect against life threatening, very real illnesses without over vaccinating. All animals that receive any vaccine at my practice also receive a homeopathic vaccine detox.
Since the job of vaccines is to stimulate antibody production, if a puppy is exposed to parvo (or another virus for which he’s been vaccinated), he has some level of circulating protection.
Vaccines stimulate antibody production, but it takes 10 to 14 days after the vaccination for adequate protection to occur. If a puppy encounters the parvo virus before she’s been vaccinated at all, or within a few days of the shot, her immune system isn’t yet equipped to protect her and she will very likely succumb to the infection.
A Personal Story About Parvo
My pitbull Esau, as a puppy with parvo and later recovered as an adult.
My husband has a pitbull named Esau that he received from a breeder in Oregon. Since Esau would be eight weeks when he came to us, I asked the breeder not to give him any vaccines because my plan was to give him single vaccines at safe intervals according to his development and weight.
My ‘no vaccines’ request meant Esau’s immune system would remain naïve – open to infection from anything he was exposed to – until I began his vaccination protocol after his arrival. I was not concerned about this because his exposure to high-risk environments, in theory, would be none.
We received a call the day Esau arrived and learned the litter had been inadvertently exposed to parvo two days prior. Esau became deathly ill within 24 hours of the call. He did recover, but only because we caught it so early. Dogs that recover from this dreadful disease have immunity for life.
I tell you this story because many people are against all vaccines. And many vaccines recommended do provide more risk than benefit (bacterin-based vaccines and ‘non-core’ vaccines). But in some situations, leaving your pup naive poses a much greater risk than benefit. This is the case with the parvo and distemper viruses.
What I want to get across is that not vaccinating your puppy for parvo means he is unprotected from infection. He’ll be fine/safe if you never let him outdoors or socialize him (expose him to other animals) – neither of which I recommend because a lifetime of isolation will lead to all kinds of behavioral problems that will prevent him from being a healthy, well-adjusted family pet.
Your dog is a social creature, a pack animal – you can’t manage him like a housecat and expect a good outcome. The only way vets can assure you your unvaccinated pup won’t acquire parvo is to keep him indoors all the time; no exceptions. And this is poor advice, in my opinion.
Dogs deserve to go outside, run, breathe fresh air, move their bodies through the woods, sniff things, and interact with other dogs. All of these behaviors pose a risk to their health, however, if they are not protected against this highly contagious disease.
I would not vaccinate myself for a life-threatening disease that was currently affecting people on another continent. However, if I decided to volunteer in the heart of a disease-ridden third world country I would be faced with a dilemma: get the vaccine to provide protection, or risk becoming a statistic of the disease. This same scenario is true for dogs and parvo virus.
Parvo virus is very much alive, thriving, and too often fatal for dogs that acquire the infection.
Over-vaccination is a terrible problem in the veterinary community, but in my professional opinion, providing baseline protection (two puppy vaccines) against the parvo virus provides your pet with lifetime immunity – and you with peace of mind.
Other Safety Precautions
Until immunity is established through titering at the two to four week mark after your pup’s second parvo shot, use extreme care if you take your pet to places where other dogs congregate. Typical venues might include:
- Pet stores
- Puppy or obedience classes
- Doggie daycare or boarding kennels
- Grooming shops
- Humane societies or animal rescue organizations
Don’t let a dog of any age come in contact with the poop of other dogs or wild animals, and properly dispose of your own pet’s poop as well.
If your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea or has been exposed to an ill dog, keep him away from any area where he might come in contact with other dogs or wild animals.
Unvaccinated dogs should not be exposed to ill dogs or those with questionable health or immunization histories.
If you are in contact with a sick dog, avoid contact with other dogs until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly and changed clothes, if necessary.