Watching man’s best friend get sick is heartbreaking, not to mention expensive. Fortunately, it may be preventable. This is especially true if you educate yourself on the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options of parvo in dogs.
What Is Parvo?
Since it was first discovered back in 1978, canine parvovirus has been considered an extremely dangerous pathogen for both wild and domesticated dogs. Also referred to as parvo or CPV, canine parvovirus is an infection that can have very damaging consequences. Having been reported in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, parvo is not only extremely contagious but it can also threaten the life of your furry friend.
Unfortunately, parvo tends to strike its victims early, as puppies between the age of six weeks and six months are the most susceptible to an infection. There are two known types of parvovirus and each can affect dogs at any age. They are: CPV-1 and CPV-2, with CPV-2 carrying a 100% morbidity rate and frequent mortality – 10% in adult dogs and up to 91% in puppies.
Furthermore, the symptoms of this dangerous virus can be complicated due to a number of recently discovered variants that originate from the intermingling of wild and domesticated canines. These variants make the virus even more dangerous and are listed below:
For the purposes of this discussion, we will only be studying the simple, unvaried versions of the virus – CPV-1 and CPV-2, otherwise known as “intestinal” or “cardiac” parvovirus respectively. The two main forms are described as follows:
- Intestinal (CPV-1)
This form of parvo in dogs is characterized by abdominal problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite and/or rapid weight loss. It is usually not fatal but can be if it’s not caught in time or is left untreated.
- Cardiac (CPV-2)
This form of parvo in dogs is characterized by heart problems caused by the virus attacking its host’s cardiac muscles. Because of the aggression of CPV-2, it can kill a canine quickly and is a certain death if left untreated.
On the bright side, there are numerous tests that can promptly detect and diagnose your fur person before it’s too late. Further, modern-day veterinarians offer safe and effective vaccinations to prevent a parvovirus infection from ever happening in the first place, at least in domesticated and properly cared for canines. However, both inactivated and live attenuated vaccines are now available, each designed to help stop the spread of parvo between wild and domesticated animals.
In most cases, the parvo vaccine is a routine part of a new pup’s vaccine schedule. Administered by a vet to young puppies as soon as it’s safe to do so, incidences of parvo in dogs has radically decreased in the last few decades as a result. Still, neglecting to properly vaccinate your canine companions can easily reverse that trend.
What Causes It?
Understanding how parvo gets transmitted is the first line of defense for any proactive dog owner. Although many of the risk factors can be avoided, some simply cannot, unfortunately. In fact, there are several things that can increase your pup’s chances of contracting parvovirus, including his/her environment, diet and personality.
Usually, parvo in dogs is caused by a perfectly natural and well-known canine behavior- sniffing butts. While the act itself is not dangerous, the effects of sniffing the wrong butt can be life-threatening. Mainly, parvo gets spread around by one dog making direct contact with an infected dog or with that infected dog’s feces.
Parvovirus can also be transmitted indirectly, however. Public play areas and highly populated dog kennels are especially favorable breeding grounds for parvovirus in all its many varieties. Here’s how it works:
- Dense concentrations of CPV-1 and CPV-2 get passed through the infected dog’s digestive system
- The virus then ends up in the infected dog’s stool.
- When an otherwise healthy pup takes a sniff of the infected stool or gives a colloquial canine “hello,” he/she may come in direct or indirect contact with parvovirus as a result.
Furthermore, your dog can contract a parvovirus infection just by being in the wrong back yard. Evidence suggests that parvovirus can lay dormant on a lawn for a year or more, even if that lawn is properly mowed and maintained. Plus, parvovirus (especially CPV-1) is surprisingly resistant to extreme weather conditions, chemical agents and harsh cleaning products.
The virus can even reach your dog via shoes that have contacted parvo-infected feces. As such, an extended vaccination schedule may be the appropriate measure to keep your pup protected. Be sure to talk to your vet about possible proactive measures.
Although veterinarians are yet to understand exactly why, certain dog breeds are more vulnerable to parvovirus than others. Seek advice or vaccinations immediately if you own any of the following breeds:
- Labrador Retriever
- Alaskan Sled dog
- German Shepard
- English Springer Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
Luckily, modern-day dog owners can take a hands-on approach to their pet’s health and wellbeing regardless of its breed or behavior. However, timely action is required to prevent the spread of CPV-1, CPV-2 or any of its many variants onto your property.
What Can Be Done to Prevent It?
While vet-administered vaccines serve as a terrific first line of defense against parvo, there are many other things you can do as a responsible dog owner to help guard your best friend from this unnecessarily dangerous yet mostly preventable infection. Unfortunately, parvovirus is virtually everywhere and few disinfectants work to kill it.
However, there are a variety of ways to shield Shep from becoming infected in the first place. Before freaking out about all the morbid possibilities, simply go through the following steps to put your heart and mind at ease:
- Have your pup properly vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian as soon as you can.
- Dogs should receive their first shot at six weeks old, then at least two more after ten weeks of age.
- Newly vaccinated pups should be kept from unnecessary socializing for at least two weeks.
- High-risk breeds might require a longer vaccination schedule.
- Only allow your dog to play with healthy pals that have been fully vaccinated against all known types of parvovirus (CPV-1, CPV-2 and all its variants).
- Clean up any outdoor areas that are accessible to your dog, especially if the area is frequently visited by wild or untamed dogs. Proper cleanup includes picking up things like
- Carcasses (both from animals dying and from food being thrown out)
- Thoroughly wash any spots that have come in contact with feces especially, even if it’s outside.
- TIP: Use a concentrated bleach solution for best results against the parvovirus.
- Avoid perceptively dirty public areas and places where large concentrations of dogs congregate. This might include places like:
- Dog parks
- Pet stores
- Pet-friendly neighborhoods
- Public walkways
- Unkept yards
To further safeguard your dog, remember that parvovirus can live dormant for quite some time. So, if you or a neighbor has had a dog with parvo in the last 1 to 3 years, avoid bringing a new puppy into the home for a while or prevent your new pup from wondering into your neighbor’s yard. Parvo can kill your dog if its left untreated for too long, so be prepared for fast action by getting to know the signs and symptoms described below.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Parvo in Dogs?
Parvovirus may be potentially deadly but its relatively easy to detect if you know what you’re looking for. Keep in mind, however, that many symptoms don’t manifest themselves during the initial incubation period. This usually includes the first 1 to 3 weeks after the virus was acquired.
Alternatively, parvovirus affects the immune system and can thus leave a dog susceptible to other infections while it incubates. As such, be sure to know the 5 most common signs and symptoms of parvo in dogs. Those typically include the following:
- General malaise
- Grey or liquid stools
- Bloody diarrhea
- Extreme weight loss
Remember also that parvo manifests itself in two different ways: through the intestines or through the cardiovascular system primarily. Because of that, the subsequent symptoms of each are quite telling. In other words, your dog’s symptoms depend on the type of parvovirus they’ve contracted. So, if they contracted CPV-1 (intestinal parvo) their symptoms will most likely involve different types of digestive problems.
Since intestinal CPV hinders your dog’s body to absorb nutrients, it may appear to be a simple parasitic infestation. However, a parvo-1-infected pup will lose nutrients much more quickly than it would with a simple parasitic infestation and could thus also exhibit the following symptoms:
- Redness on or around mouth or eye tissue
- Rapid heartbeat
- Abdominal distension
- Pain and discomfort
- Low body temperature
In terms of cardiac parvovirus (CPV-2) symptoms, expect to see breathing problems and/or heart palpitations in addition to the symptoms listed above for intestinal parvo (CPV-1).
What Are the Treatment Options?
There are a variety of serological and molecular tests commonly used to promptly and accurately detect and diagnose parvo in dogs. Effective treatment of parvovirus begins with an accurate diagnosis from a licensed veterinarian. Such tests typically involve a comprehensive physical examination and the collection and analysis of stool, blood and/or urine samples.
While prevention, treatment and aftercare are possible with the right knowledge and support, there is no real cure for parvo because it’s a viral infection. As such, most treatment measures remain focused on the symptoms or attempt to mitigate secondary infections. However, new generation vaccines are currently under development and are each at different stages. Those potential vaccinations include:
- A recombinant vaccine
- A DNA vaccine (designed to protect the susceptible breeds mentioned above)
- A peptide vaccine (created primarily for CPV-1, or intestinal parvo)
Before getting too excited, however, it’s important to note that the vaccines currently under development are having a hard time getting approved for use in the veterinary field. The reason has a lot to do with the presence of maternal antibodies which inhibit the active immunization with live attenuated vaccines. In other words, that interference creates a window of risk for the dog despite the immunization being administered properly.
In Conclusion: Parvo at a Glance
Parvovirus, or CPV, is a highly contagious and extremely dangerous virus that threatens the health and safety of man’s best friend. It’s generally contracted through direct or indirect contact with infected feces or body fluids. While serious and life-threatening, parvovirus can be prevented and/or treated as necessary thanks to modern advancements in veterinary science.
Judicious administration of proper vaccinations in pet canines is essential to the successful control of the virus. Although stray (wild) canines are nearly impossible to round up and vaccinate, new vaccines are under development to stop the spread of parvo between domesticated and non-domesticated animals. Meanwhile, the numerous variants that were recently discovered in the parvovirus family (namely CPV-2a, CPV-2b and CPV-2c) are unfortunately complicating matters and slowing down the production of new and improved treatment options.
Therefore, it falls on the dog’s owner to ensure the virus is kept at bay. Because parvovirus can lay dormant on grass and soil for several years regardless of weather patterns or lawn chemicals, it’s extremely important to do ALL of the following:
- Have your canine properly vaccinated against all known types of parvovirus and its variants (if possible).
- Keep your canine’s indoor and outdoor common areas clean and free of things like feces, blood or vomit.
- Never allow your dog to play or socialize with a dog that’s unvaccinated against parvovirus, especially if that other dog frequently visits public areas.
- Avoid taking your dog to public places where large concentrations of dogs congregate, especially if you’re unsure about the health of the dogs at that location.
- Refrain from bringing your dog around a property that has had a parvovirus outbreak in the last 1 to 3 years.
With proper disinfection practices, timely and comprehensive vaccination schedules and responsible pet ownership habits, it should be easy to keep parvovirus at bay. Just remember that parvo is often accompanied by other health problems because it attacks your dog’s immune system and leaves them susceptible to other infections. If your dog has been fully vaccinated, it’s likely more resilient to the virus than a dog that’s only been vaccinated against parvo.
Also, the parvovirus can do significant damage in a very short time but requires an initial incubation phase to fully develop. Keep your eye on Fido as much as possible, especially while he’s outside doing his “business” or greeting potential pals. Regular veterinary checkups can help keep your pup in tip-top shape despite his personality or lifestyle.