Canine parvovirus is an acute, highly
contagious disease of dogs that was first described
in the early 1970s. The virus has a tendency to attack rapidly reproducing
cells, such as those lining the gastrointestinal tract.
The virus is shed in large amounts in the stools of acutely infected dogs
for up to several weeks following infection. The disease is transmitted by oral
contact with infected feces. Parvo can be carried on the dog’s hair and feet,
as well as on contaminated crates, shoes, and other objects. When the dog licks
the fecal material off hair, feet, or anything that came in contact with
infected feces, he acquires the disease.
Puppies and dogs naturally jump up on people when they say hello. Why? Because we’re taller than they are! When dogs meet, they sniff each other’s faces. They like to do the same thing when greeting us, so it’s perfectly natural for dogs to jump up on us to try to reach our faces and get our attention.
Parvo affects dogs of all ages, but most cases occur in puppies 6 to 20
weeks of age. Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers appear to acquire the
infection more readily and experience more severe symptoms. The reason for
lower resistance in these breeds is unknown.
Following an incubation period that averages four to five days, the acute
illness begins with depression, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some dog have no fever, while others have
high fever (up to 106°F, 41.1°C). Pups with severe abdominal pain exhibit a
tucked-up abdomen. Diarrhea is profuse and contains mucus and/or blood. Dehydration develops rapidly.
Heart muscle involvement in neonatal puppies used to be common, but is now
quite rare. This is because routine vaccination of brood bitches two to four
weeks before breeding boosts maternal antibody levels and provides better
protection for puppies.
Suspect parvo in all pups with the abrupt onset of vomiting and diarrhea.
The most efficient way to diagnose parvo is to identify either the virus or
virus antigens in stools. An in-office blood serum test (ELISA) is available
for rapid veterinary diagnosis. False negatives do occur. Virus isolation
techniques are more precise, but require an outside laboratory.
Treatment: Dogs with this disease require intensive veterinary management.
In all but the most mild cases, hospitalization is essential to correct
dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Intravenous fluids and medications to
control vomiting and diarrhea are often required. More severe cases may require
blood plasma transfusions and other intensive care.
Puppies and dogs should not eat or drink until the vomiting has stopped. but
require fluid support during that time. This can take three to five days. Antibiotics are prescribed to prevent septicemia and
other bacterial complications, which are the usual cause of death.
The outcome depends upon the virulence of the specific strain of parvovirus,
the age and immune status of the dog, and how quickly the treatment is started.
Most pups who are under good veterinary care recover without complications.
Prevention: Thoroughly clean and disinfect the quarters of infected animals.
Parvo is an extremely hardy virus that resists most household cleaners and
survives on the premises for months. The most effective disinfectant is
household bleach in a 1:32 dilution. The bleach must be left on the
contaminated surface for 20 minutes before being rinsed.