dog with large ears parvo parvovirus

Parvovirus infection in dogs

Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a highly infectious viral disease that can be fatal to dogs. Puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months, and unvaccinated dogs, are most at risk.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Symptoms of parvovirus

Parvovirus infection is a very serious illness, particularly in puppies. After catching the virus it takes up to seven days for signs to be seen. Canine parvovirus can manifest in two different ways. The more common form is the intestinal form. This is characterised by vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and lack of appetite (anorexia). The virus attacks the cells that line the dogs intestine, which stops them being able to absorb nutrients. This causes severe diarrhoea and leads to weakness and dehydration. The less common form is the cardiac form. The virus attacks the heart muscles of unborn foetuses and very young puppies, often leading to death.

Signs include:

  • Profuse, foul smelling diarrhoea, often containing blood
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Painful abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Severe weight loss
  • Sudden death

Progression of the infection may lead to shock. Shock occurs when the animal is overwhelmed by the infection either through loss of fluids or from septic shock. Signs of shock include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Cold extremities, particularly the feet, legs and ears
  • Inability to rise or interact
  • Floppy and/or unconscious

Cause of parvovirus

Parvovirus passes between animals through contact with infected dogs. Environmental contamination occurs through infectious bodily fluids (faeces or vomit). This means that the virus can be spread by almost any contaminated object, such as shoes and clothing. There is evidence that the virus can survive in the environment for up to a year. The virus is resistant to most cleaning products and weather changes. Young puppies and dogs without a full vaccination history are most at risk. Outbreaks of the disease are commonly seen in towns where there is a high population of unvaccinated dogs. Sadly, despite a vaccinations being available, puppies and dogs die every year from parvovirus in the UK.

What can you do to prevent the infection?

  • Vaccination is part of a routine vaccine schedule; all dogs should be kept up to date with their vaccinations to prevent the disease.
  • All puppies should receive two vaccinations, two weeks apart, between 6 and 16 weeks old.
  • All dogs should receive an annual booster vaccination.
  • Any vaccination record must be signed and dated by a veterinary surgeon or registered veterinary nurse (RVN) in order to be valid.
  • Puppies are most susceptible to the disease. Ensuring that hygiene measures are in place and that the puppy’s mother is vaccinated can help to prevent the disease.
  • It is very important not to let young, unvaccinated puppies be exposed to the virus. Until they are fully vaccinated, always keeps your puppy in your arms or in a carrier when visiting the vets or out and about. Avoid kennels, groomers, parks, training classes or other places where dogs congregate.
  • For as yet unknown reasons, Rottweilers, Labradors, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels and Alaskan sled dogs are particularly susceptible to the virus.
  • There are a small number of dogs who will not respond to the vaccine and may not be immune to the disease. Discuss checking your dog’s immune status with your vet.
  • Even when your dog is fully vaccinated, continue to practice good hygiene. Remember to poop and scoop behind your dog. You may be interested in the Parvo alert twitter feed
  • To clean a parvovirus contaminated area: pick up and safely dispose of any organic material; use a concentrated household bleach solution (one of the only products known to kill the virus) to thoroughly wash the whole area.

Treatment of parvovirus

Sadly, parvovirus has a mortality rate of over 90% in cases that are left untreated. The prognosis is poorer for puppies because they have a less developed immune system. If parvovirus is suspected then you must visit your vet without delay. Your veterinarian will take a blood sample to check your dog’s hydration status, and their red and white blood cell count. Xrays may be taken to look for any indication of an intestinal obstruction, a common differential diagnosis for diarrhoea.

Since the disease is caused by a viral infection there is no specific treatment for it. Instead, your dog will be given aggressive symptomatic treatment to try to support them whilst their intestines are healing. Intensive nursing care will be required. Isolation procedures will be followed so as not to spread the virus to other animals in the hospital. Intravenous fluid therapy, pain relief, anti-vomiting drugs, and other supportive medications will be given as necessary, with gentle warming.

Prompt treatment gives the best chance of a successful outcome. However, treatment will be expensive and can take some time. Even after a dog recovers they remain infectious to other dogs for at least 2 months. In addition, their immune system will remain weak for some time, meaning that they are at risk of other infections. Protect your dog by isolating it from others until it is fully recovered. Other dogs can be tested if you are concerned that they have been contaminated with the virus.

Dogs should gain long-term immunity to parvovirus after making a full recovery. However, this does not prevent them from becoming infected with the virus at a later date.

When to see your physical veterinarian

  • If you are concerned that your dog has signs of parvovirus infection.
  • Signs of a severe infection, as detailed above.
  • Signs of shock, as detailed above.

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