By Dr. Becker
If you're a dog owner, you probably know that canine parvovirus is a very serious disease seen primarily in unvaccinated puppies and immunocompromised dogs. It is highly contagious and can be fatal. A parvo infection causes hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, which is characterized by vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
The disease is easily transmittable from one dog to another through contact with infected feces. It can also be spread by direct dog-to-dog contact, and contact with contaminated environments or people. Parvo can infect kennels, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle sick dogs. The virus is highly environmentally stable and can remain infectious in soil for at least a year.
Test Now Available to Detect New Parvo Strain 2c
As with most diseases, the sooner a case of parvo is identified, the better the dog's chances for recovery. In fact, survival can depend on how quickly and accurately the virus is diagnosed.
According to Richard Oberst, professor of diagnostic medicine and director of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, many tests currently available can't detect the newer strains of parvovirus 2c, which has lead to false negative results in infected dogs.
The 2c strain is a newer, emerging strain of canine parvovirus that was first detected in Italy in 2000, and has also been reported in Asia, South America, and Western Europe. It was first reported in the U.S. in 2006, and is now considered the most common strain of the disease. Parvovirus strain 2b is also prevalent in this country; the 2 and 2a strains are very rarely seen.
Fortunately, a new diagnostic test developed by researchers at KSU's Diagnostic Laboratory can now identify the 2c strain of parvo. It's a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that detects all strains simultaneously and points to which strain or strains might be causing the infection.
Veterinarians can send samples for testing to:
Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
1800 Denison Ave.
Manhattan, KS 66506
Samples should be shipped in the same manner as all other diagnostic specimens. For more information, DVMs can contact the laboratory at 866-512-5650 or visit www.ksvdl.org.
Symptoms and Treatment of a Parvovirus Infection
Parvo causes similar symptoms in all infected puppies and dogs, including vomiting, severe and often bloody diarrhea, lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite. In dogs infected with the virus, dehydration is a constant concern and can occur very quickly as a result of the vomiting and diarrhea. This is especially dangerous in very young puppies.
Most deaths from parvo occur within 48 to 72 hours after the onset of symptoms, which is why it's critical that you take your dog to a veterinarian or emergency animal hospital immediately if he shows any signs of the infection.
There is no specific anti-viral therapy for parvovirus 2c (or any of the other strains). Treatment of an infected dog consists of immediate delivery of supportive care, including replacing fluids and electrolytes, controlling vomiting and diarrhea, and preventing secondary infections. Since the disease is so contagious, affected dogs should be isolated to minimize spread of infection.
The goal of treatment of parvovirus involves supporting your dog's organs and body systems until her immune response can conquer the infection. There are some 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.
Protecting Your Dog from Parvo Through Proper Vaccination
I think you'll agree that the best way to treat a parvo infection is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The parvovirus is nothing to fool around with. It is very much alive and thriving in our environment, and it frequently ends the lives of dogs who become infected.
Over-vaccination is an ongoing problem in the veterinary community, but in my professional opinion, providing baseline protection (two puppy vaccines) against parvo provides your pet with lifetime immunity — and provides you with peace of mind.
The protocol I follow in vaccinating puppies against parvo (the vaccine protects against all strains) is a parvo/distemper shot before 11 weeks of age (ideally at 9 weeks), and a booster at about 14 weeks. I then titer between 2 to 4 weeks after the second shot to insure the puppy was not only vaccinated, but immunized. This is a core vaccine protocol that provides the basic minimum number of vaccines to protect against life threatening illnesses, without over vaccinating.
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.
A small percentage of dogs known as "non-responders" will not develop immunity and will remain susceptible to parvo for a lifetime. This is very important information for dog owners to have, which is another reason I titer after the second round of shots.
In addition, some puppies retain a level of immunity from their mother's milk that interferes with the effectiveness of vaccines. Titering gives us the information we need to be confident the pup has been immunized effectively, or if he hasn't, to determine why, and what further action should be taken. I also always provide a homeopathic detox agent for newly vaccinated animals.