Parvovirus in Puppies: A Treatment and Prevention Q&A
You just got a new puppy, how exciting! You want to bring your new furry family member with you everywhere, but your vet just recommended waiting until after she finishes her puppy vaccine series. Why? Parvo is one of the main reasons! Read on to learn why parvovirus is such a big concern in puppies, what symptoms to look for, and what treatment options are available.
What is Parvo?
Parvoviruses are a type of virus that can infect most mammals. Luckily, this group of viruses is mostly species-specific, meaning you can’t get parvo from your dog. The canine parvovirus was identified in the US in the late 1960s.
Most mammals have their own type of parvovirus. The form dogs get isn’t contagious to people, but can infect wild canids like foxes, coyotes, and wolves.
Parvoviruses attack rapidly developing cells, such as the type of cells that live in the intestinal lining, bone marrow, and lymph system. Destroying the lining of the intestinal tract leads to bloody diarrhea and increases the risk of secondary bacterial infections getting into the bloodstream.
How can my dog get exposed to Parvo?
Parvovirus can survive in the environment for many months and can easily be spread. Parvo can survive freezing temperatures, so even harsh winters are not able to destroy it. Outdoors, it can survive for 6 months or longer, even if the virus is in direct sunlight or the shade. Parvo can live on surfaces indoors for a month or more.
Dogs are typically exposed by walking in areas where other infected dogs or wild canids have defecated, such as parks, along trails, etc. It’s spread by the fecal-oral route, which means your puppy is potentially exposed every time she sniffs, licks, or eats something on the ground. Since the virus can live for so long outside of a host, a dog can still be exposed and infected even if no fecal material is seen and the original infected animal has long left the area.
We can also bring the parvovirus home on our shoes and clothing! So if even if your dog was not out and about with you, there’s a risk they can still get this virus.
What can I do to keep my dog safe from Parvo?
Luckily there’s a vaccine to help protect your dog from Parvo. This is one of the main vaccines given to your puppy during their initial puppy visits. Your puppy should receive a series of multiple parvo vaccines until he is at least 16-18 weeks of age. The goal is to build up the pup’s immunity as the antibodies they received when nursing on their mom begin to decline. It’s very important to note that your puppy is still at risk of getting parvo, even after the first one or two shots. Protective immunity is typically not established until the dog has received a full vaccine series.
Parvo vaccinations are then given every 1 to 3 years to keep your dog safe throughout his lifetime. Adult dogs with no known prior vaccine history are typically recommended to receive 2 vaccines within a month, then every 1 to 3 years thereafter.
For more information on puppy vaccines, check out our article!
What happens if my dog is exposed to Parvo?
Common clinical symptoms include:
These clinical symptoms typically develop 7-10 days after the dog has been exposed. If your puppy is showing 2 or more of these symptoms, take them in for a parvo test right away. If you suspect parvo, be sure to let your vet clinic know so they can take precautions to reduce the risk of spread to any other patients.
Testing Options for Parvo
There is a simple test that can be run in most clinics to screen for Parvovirus. This test, called an ELISA test, often takes less than 15 minutes to complete. The ELISA test, like other parvo tests, can be affected by recent vaccines. For example, if your pup had a parvo vaccine within 2 weeks of testing, the test can detect that also. If this situation arises, checking a blood panel called a CBC can be useful. The CBC evaluates red and white blood cell levels, and dogs with true parvo infections often have a reduced white blood cell level.
Testing for intestinal parasites is also recommended at the same time. Parasites can cause similar symptoms and need to be treated so your puppy’s body can focus on recovering from the virus.
Treatment of Parvo in Puppies
There is no one specific treatment for parvo, but rather a lot of supportive care. Sick puppies lose a lot of fluids due to diarrhea and vomiting. They often don’t feel well enough to eat and drink on their own to replace these losses. Hospitalization with IV fluids is key to provide needed rehydration.
Many puppies also need antibiotics to either treat or deter severe bacterial infections that frequently develop. Since the parvovirus attacks the cells lining the intestinal tract, GI bacteria can get into the bloodstream, leading to sepsis. As parvo attacks the bone marrow and white blood cells, your pup loses the ability to fight off this infection on its own.
Anti-nausea medications, electrolyte replacement, glucose supplementation, and proper nutrition are all additional key elements of treatment. Some puppies may need a feeding tube placed until they can eat on their own again. Some vets are also using TamiFlu, plasma transfusions, and serum treatment as additional measures.
Most puppies spend a week in the hospital receiving care before they’re well enough to go home. If you can’t afford this type of treatment, please discuss home care options with your vet. Home care treatment isn’t as effective as hospitalization, but it’s worth a try.
My puppy had Parvo. How can I clean my home before adopting another dog?
Remember that Parvo can live for months in the environment. Indoors, it can survive for a month or longer. Outside, it can live for 6 months or so. Parvo can survive freezing weather, high heat, and humidity.
To clean your home, use a 1 to 30 part bleach solution and allow it to have contact with the surfaces for at least 10 minutes (For example, 1oz of bleach to 30oz of water). You can soak all the toys, beds, bowls, leashes, etc. in this dilute bleach solution, then send them through the wash.
There isn't a good option to treat the outdoor environment, as using dilute bleach on the grass and plants will kill them also. For the outdoors, you’ll have to be patient and wait 6 months before allowing a new puppy into contaminated spaces.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s parvo virus infection or another condition?
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