An increase in parvo cases during warmer months (when pets are outside more) is not uncommon. But pet owners need to understand the disease poses a life-threatening risk to unprotected dogs, especially puppies.
It's not just warm weather and outdoor activities that bring the risk of parvovirus. Unvaccinated puppies imported from other countries are also linked to an increasing number of reported cases in the U.S.
How Parvo Spreads
The parvovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted through dog-to-dog contact as well as through contaminated feces, environments and people.
Virtually any surface a dog touches can harbor the virus, including his crate, food and water bowls, his collar and leash, dog toys, etc. Other animals, people and even clothing can be contaminated.
Parvo is a very resilient virus that lives in the environment for long stretches. It survives temperature and humidity extremes. Just a minute amount of poop contaminated with parvo can infect an area and other dogs that pass through the area.
Symptoms of Infection
Canine parvovirus type 2, or CPV-2, attacks the gastrointestinal tract of infected dogs.
In very young puppies and those still in utero, the virus is also known to damage the heart muscle.
Symptoms of infection are similar in all dogs and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting and severe, often bloody diarrhea
- Lethargy; weakness
The dehydration caused by parvo can come on rapidly due to the vomiting and diarrhea, and is especially dangerous in puppies.
Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48 to 72 hours after symptoms begin, so it's absolutely critical that your dog sees your vet or gets to an emergency animal clinic immediately if you suspect a parvo infection.
Diagnosis of the virus requires blood and fecal tests.
There's no specific drug therapy for parvo, so treatment is supportive in nature. The goal is to support your dog's organs and body systems until her immune system can successfully kill off the virus.
It's a good idea to hospitalize your dog until her condition has stabilized. She'll be given fluids and electrolytes for hydration, and help for the vomiting and diarrhea. She'll be kept warm. Preventing secondary infections is also a goal of treatment.
Your dog's chances for survival are improved if fluids and medications are administered by IV. Meds given orally are often not absorbed well due to GI infection which damages the lining of the walls of the intestine.
There are herbal and homeopathic remedies (nosodes) that can also be useful in easing the symptoms of infection, so ask your holistic vet for suggestions.
The sooner treatment begins and the more aggressive it is, the better your pet's chances are – but don't expect your vet to be able to predict an outcome immediately.
Unfortunately, treatment of parvo can get very expensive, with no guarantee your beloved pet won't die despite heroic efforts to save her. In some heartbreaking cases, pet owners simply can't afford to try to save their dogs, and euthanasia becomes the only option.
Because of the cost of treatment, some pet owners elect to treat their dogs at home rather than leave them at the hospital. This can be a significant challenge because the vomiting and diarrhea of parvo creates a contagious mess that must be carefully contained.
Effective sanitizing and disinfecting of your dog's area is critically important to prevent disease transmission.
Because parvo is so resistant, most common disinfectants aren't enough to kill the virus. Household bleach at a 1:30 dilution in water will do the trick, as will potassium peroxide (look for brand name Trifectant or Virkon).
If you opt to treat your dog at home, you should talk with your vet about how to eliminate the infective agents in your pet's environment.
Obviously, a parvo-infected dog must be isolated to prevent spreading the virus.
Vaccinating Your Dog Against Parvo
My vaccine protocol at Natural Pet is to give one parvo vaccine at around 9 weeks (but before 11 weeks), and a booster at around 14 weeks. Then 2 to 4 weeks after the booster, I do a titer to confirm the puppy has been immunized against the disease.
Titering will also tell me if the puppy is a (rare) non-responder to the parvo vaccine, meaning he'll never develop immunity to the disease and will be susceptible for a lifetime. This information is vital to the dog's owner, who will need to take measures for the balance of the pet's life to keep him safe from exposure to the virus.
If a puppy's parvo titer shows he's immunized and protected 2 to 4 weeks after the second vaccine, in my professional opinion he's immune for life. The majority of pets develop lifelong immunity to viruses they are immunized against as babies. Bacterial infections are a different matter, however, and carry a risk of re-infection.
If a client needs additional reassurance of protection, I recommend annual titers for the core vaccines rather than automatic re-vaccination.
Additional Protection from Infection
It generally takes from 10 to 14 days after parvo vaccination for adequate protection to develop. Unfortunately, if a puppy is exposed to parvo either before vaccination or in that 10 to 14 day window before sufficient immunity has kicked in, it is usually fatal.
Because we can't look at a puppy and see when maternal antibody protection (the immune system they acquire from nursing) wears off, it's important you keep your puppy from being exposed to life-threatening viruses until they are protected.
My recommendation prior to confirmation of immunity through titering (or alternatively, prior to 14 days after your pup has received the second parvo vaccine) is to either avoid or use extreme care allowing your dog to mix it up with unfamiliar dogs. Places where you should exercise extreme caution include:
- Dog parks
- Doggie daycare or boarding kennels
- Grooming shops
- Humane societies or animal rescue organizations
Also reduce or eliminate your dog's exposure, no matter her age, to the poop of other dogs and all animals. Clean up your own pet's waste as well.
Keep your dog away from sick pets, and if it's your dog that's sick, do the same. If you come in contact with a sick dog, wash your hands and change clothes if necessary before you handle another dog.