Parvo is a highly contagious viral disease that affects dogs. Transmission is mainly from exposure to the virus through feces from infected dogs. Parvovirus causes the lining of the intestines to necrose (slough). Clinical signs include diarrhea, often bloody, vomiting, lethargy, and dehydration. The less common cardiac form can cause sudden death. Most infected dogs are puppies and dogs that are not current on their parvovirus vaccination.
Parvovirus is a relatively new disease, appearing in the late 1970’s. There were widespread outbreaks and the mortality rate was quite high before the development of a vaccine. Puppies are vaccinated monthly in a series of 3 injections starting at 8 weeks of age until they are 4 months old. Boosters are given yearly after that. Parvovirus is highly contagious and the mortality rate in untreated dogs can reach 91% in as little as 24-72 hours. Concurrent illness with bacteria, parasites, and malnutrition worsens the clinical signs. Certain breeds are predisposed: Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Pit Bull Terriers. Treatment is mainly supportive and can be quite expensive. Dogs are hospitalized for several days on intravenous fluids, antibiotics, antidiarrheals, and anti-emetics. Infected dogs that recover can shed virus in their feces for up to 3-6 weeks and should be kept away from any other dogs until this period is over. The virus can persist in the environment for up to a year and is cold and heat tolerant. The only disinfectant that effectively kills the virus is bleach. We recommend that infected dogs be taken to a small area in the yard to defecate, and the fecal material be picked up to avoid exposing other dogs by contaminating the environment.
There have been several parvovirus outbreaks locally. In these difficult economic times, dog owners are cutting corners with their pets’ health. The parvovirus vaccine is usually included the distemper vaccine that is given yearly to dogs. Prevention of this deadly disease is the key. It is an inexpensive, and safe way to ensure the health of our beloved canine family members.