What is parvovirus?
Also known as "parvo", parvovirus is a serious & often deadly disease caused by the highly infectious parvovirus. It is a relatively new disease as it was only first seen in the late 1970s. Parvovirus attacks rapidly dividing cells within the body. It most commonly involves the gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes & bone marrow causing destruction of the white blood cells makes the dog vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections. It is spread via infected faeces where high numbers of the virus are shed. Infection occurs via direct or indirect contact with infected faeces.
Due to its stability, the virus is easily transmitted via the hair or feet of infected dogs, visitor's contaminated shoes, clothes, and other objects. This means that even if your dog never goes to the park or mixes with other dogs, it can be exposed to virus in the environment. The virus can survive for many months within the environment. Dogs that become infected with the virus and show clinical signs will usually become ill within 7-10 days of the initial infection. They can be shedding the virus in the days prior to them showing any signs of illness!
Unvaccinated puppies are most at risk of infection although adult dogs can also become infected. For reasons unknown, Dobermans, Rottweilers & Pit Bulls are more susceptible to the disease than other breeds of dog.
What are the symptoms of parvovirus in dogs?
Some dogs will be asymptomatic. This means that they are shedding the virus but are showing no symptoms of disease. This is common in dogs over 12 months of age & dogs who have been vaccinated. Yes dogs who have been vaccinated can still get the disease but usually in a much milder form!
Symptoms of parvovirus come on quickly & include;
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Foul smelling, bloody diarrhoea
- Severe dehydration
How is parvovirus diagnosed?
We will perform a complete physical examination & obtain a medical history from you. There are other diseases with similar symptoms to parvovirus so we will need to perform tests. These may include;
- Testing the faeces for presence of the virus.
- Blood tests to check for antibodies to the virus.
How is parvovirus treated?
There is no cure for parvovirus, once infected supportive care is required while the dog's immunity fights off the virus. Dogs who survive past 5 or so days will usually pull through.
Hospitalisation is required in all but mild cases of parvovirus. Most veterinarians will withhold food until symptoms begin to abate, at which time a very bland diet will be slowly introduced.
Treatment may include;
- Fluid therapy to treat dehydration & electrolyte imbalances.
- Antibiotics to prevent septicemia & fight off secondary bacterial infections.
- Anti nausea medication.
- Pain medication may be provided in severe cases.
Thorough disinfection of quarters of infected animals is required. The virus is extremely hardy & resistant to most household disinfectants. Bleach at a dilution of 1:32 is most effective. The bleach will need to remain on the surface for 20 minutes.
By far the easiest way to prevent this deadly virus is by routine vaccination commencing at 6 weeks of age. A good breeder will also vaccinate the bitch just prior to whelping to provide some immunity from diseases in the pups until they are old enough to have their first vaccination!