Parvovirus is a severe and potentially fatal virus that attacks dogs. Highly contagious and fast acting, it most commonly affects puppies and causes acute gastrointestinal illness — in other words, it's a very serious and nasty viral infection that needs immediate veterinary attention.
The good news is that not only is canine parvovirus a preventable disease, but dogs can also be successfully treated for parvo.
However, it's still essential that every dog owner can recognize the warning signs and can act as quickly as possible to help protect their pet. Let's take a closer look at what causes parvo, how it spreads, and how it can be treated.
Signs of Parvovirus in Dogs
Parvo is caused by a virus known as canine parvovirus type 2. This unpleasant and potentially life-threatening disease affects a dog's gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system, and its rapid onset means that a pup can go from being seemingly perfectly healthy to seriously ill in the space of a very short amount of time.
Parvo most commonly affects the gastrointestinal system and is often characterized by the sudden onset of severe, bloody diarrhea. Repeated episodes of vomiting also commonly occur, and persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration and serious damage to the intestines and immune system.
Other signs and symptoms to look for include lethargy, general weakness, and a lack of appetite, as well as fever or a low body temperature (hypothermia).
A much less common form of parvo affects the cardiovascular systems of young puppies. This form of the disease attacks a puppy's heart muscles and can be fatal.
Parvo is most commonly associated with puppies but, while it is most common in dogs under one year of age and the most dangerous for pups of less than five months, it can affect pooches of all ages. It's also important to point out that many dogs won't show every clinical sign of the condition, so make sure you seek veterinary attention even if you're unsure whether your dog has parvo or not.
The History of Parvo
A relatively new disease, canine parvovirus type 2 first emerged in Europe around 1978. Within the space of a couple of years, it had spread rapidly around the world, causing an epidemic of gastrointestinal and heart problems in pet dogs. However, parvo can also affect wolves, coyotes, and other wild animals, and has been reported in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Its rapid spread, combined with the serious effects it can have on our canine companions, resulted in a fast response from the veterinary science community. The virus was quickly studied and isolated, and effective vaccines for parvovirus were developed in the late 1970s.
There are also three variants of canine parvovirus type 2. Types a and b were first discovered in the 1980s, and also found in the US during this time, while type c wasn't detected until the year 2000 in Italy. By 2005 it had spread to the US, and come 2011 it was the most prevalent variant of parvovirus in the nation.
Despite the fact that there are effective vaccinations for all variants of the virus, parvo outbreaks still occur. With this in mind, it's essential to speak to your veterinarian about what you can do to protect your puppy or dog.
The Science of Parvovirus
Canine parvovirus type 2 is actually closely related to feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), a virus which we've known about since the 1920s. It's thought that canine parvovirus probably arose due to two or three genetic mutations in FPV that made it capable of infecting dogs.
Parvo is highly infectious and can be spread by any animal, person, or object that comes into contact with the feces of an infected dog.
However, it's also spread through direct dog-to-dog contact or by coming into contact with an infected environment and is easily transmitted through the hair or feet of infected dogs, or even on your own infected shoes and clothing. In fact, one of the main reasons the virus is so dangerous is due to its ability to spread rapidly through the canine population.
Parvovirus is resistant to heat, detergents, and alcohol, allowing it to remain in the environment for up to a year. Not every dog who comes into contact with the virus becomes infected, but if your pooch has the right combination of factors (such as a compromised immune system) then infection could occur.
Symptoms of the virus usually become apparent within 7 to 10 days.
As you've hopefully gathered by now, parvovirus is very serious. If you suspect that your dog might be suffering from the virus, seek immediate veterinary help. The sooner the condition can be diagnosed and treated, the better a pet's chance of survival.
A fecal test is usually used to diagnose the virus, but the treatment that follows may vary slightly depending on the severity of the condition. As there's no specific drug that can kill the virus, treatment focuses on providing the support your dog needs until his or her immune system is strong enough to fight off parvo.
In most cases, your dog will need to be hospitalized in an isolation ward. There, your veterinarian can prescribe any necessary medications, such as antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections in the intestine, and provide the IV fluids and nutrients needed to replace the amounts lost via vomiting and diarrhea. Blood transfusions are sometimes also needed to boost low blood cell counts that arise from parvovirus infecting the dog's bone marrow.
Most puppies who survive the first few days with parvovirus are likely to survive the condition, and recovery takes approximately one week. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you through each step of the process and work out a recovery plan designed to suit your puppy's unique needs.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 02/07/2018, edited: 04/06/2020